Kiwi scientists have built a stunning 3D model to capture the moment a live, beating heart suffers an attack.

Using computational biomechanics and medical imaging, University of Auckland cardiac mechanics researchers have built a dynamic computer model of the two main pumping chambers, or ventricles, of the human heart.

Their interactive model shows how the motion of the ventricles is affected by the three most common heart disease scenarios - heart attack, arrhythmia and heart failure.

Ahead of World Heart Day tomorrow, the research team from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) has taken the technology and turned it into a ground-breaking, interactive heart web app now on show at the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat).

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"We designed the app as an educational tool with high school and primary school students in mind," explained Professor Martyn Nash, who leads the team.

"Using a touch screen, viewers can spin the model around, open up the virtual heart, and learn what happens to the heart during common disease scenarios."

The technology is part of a larger research programme at ABI, awarded nearly $5 million from the New Zealand Health Research Council this year, to investigate the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying cardiovascular disease.

"Our goal is to develop new, more specific indices of heart health using personalised biomechanics models that combine medical images and blood pressure measurements," says Nash.

Heart diagnostics were largely based on relatively non-specific measures and population statistics.

Nash and his team aimed to improve on this using a personalised heart model for a more specific diagnosis, and hence a more effective therapy.

Professor Martyn Nash and assistant Zhinuo Jenny Wang from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute with a 3D touch-screen model illustrating how different diseases affect the heart. Photo / Dean Purcell
Professor Martyn Nash and assistant Zhinuo Jenny Wang from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute with a 3D touch-screen model illustrating how different diseases affect the heart. Photo / Dean Purcell
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Researchers led by University of Auckland Bioengineering Department Professor Martyn Nash have created a 3D, touch-screen model - now on display at MOTAT - illustrating how different diseases affect the heart.

"In the short term, we are rolling out our heart visualisation technology to local health providers to educate patients about diseases such as heart attacks, heart failure, and ventricular arrhythmias," he said.

"We are also using these tools to impress upon heart patients a need to improve their lifestyle choices and adhere to prescribed medications."

In the longer term, tools developed as part of the research would be used to further investigate cardiovascular diseases in Kiwi heart patients.

"We will look to characterise differences in mechanisms of heart disease based on demographic factors such as gender, ethnicity, age.

"In particular, personalised biomechanical analyses of this kind may be able to elucidate mechanisms that can help to explain the over-representation of cardiovascular disease in Maori compared to non-Maori in New Zealand."

The team was also driving to make the technology applicable to cardiac ultrasound imaging, which was less expensive and more widely accessible compared to cardiac MRI.

"This will help to reduce costs of care, and inequity of access to the diagnostic technology, particularly for rural communities in New Zealand."

Motat is showing the model as part of its exhibition Brave Hearts: The NZ Cardiac Story.