Video Games Go Inside the Heart

December 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
It helps action heroes jump off the TV screen into your living room ... the same technology could also help surgeons operate on tiny hearts. A technique used in video games allows doctors to see inside a beating heart like never before. It could eliminate open heart surgery and the life-threatening risks it carries for kids.In the first three years of her life, Josephine Rizzo had already endured three open heart surgeries to fix a congenital defect. Each time, doctors had to stop her heart to operate.

"The biggest part with stopping the heart is it stopping, and the whole thought process is, is it going to restart," Josephine's mother, Courtney Rizzo, told Ivanhoe.

Stopping children's hearts is risky. Surgeons have to open the chest. The large incisions can scar the heart and disrupt its rhythm, and putting kids on a bypass machines increases the risk of organ damage.

"The goal is to avoid the so-called open part of open heart surgery," Pedro del Nido, M.D., Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Children's Hospital Boston, told Ivanhoe.

But that can't happen in kids until surgeons have real-time imaging of the heart that allows them to see depth.

"You don't have the ability to know what's near and far," Dr. del Nido said.

The technology may come from an unlikely source -- the video game industry. Three-d stereo glasses that make games bounce off the screen are doing the same for ultrasounds. The glasses turn images of a beating heart into moving holograms, giving surgeons the feeling of actually being inside the heart chamber.

In a study in pigs, surgeons using the glasses were able to close a hole in a beating heart 44 percent faster. The next step -- surgery on a child's beating heart.

"If you don't have to do an open procedure, length of hospital stay, recovery period would all be shortened," Dr. del Nido said.

Technology designed for fun and games, helping kids like Josephine endure less pain and conquer the next level of childhood.

Clinical trials of the beating heart surgery in children could begin this year.

James Newton
Public Relations
Children's Hospital Boston
(617) 919-3110