London’s Heart Hospital teamed up with the extremely talented visual effects studio, Glassworks, to create HeartWorks, the most anatomically accurate 3D beating human heart.

The massive project was led by a team of three cardiac anesthesiologists at London’s Heart Hospital who were dissapointed with the absence of an accurate model of the heart to use for teaching transesophageal echocardiography (cardiac ultrasound). The procedure provides important details on the condition of a patient’s heart prior to undergoing heart surgery.  It entails passing an ultrasound probe through the patients mouth and down into the esophagus. The ultrasound signal has to pass through the esophageal wall to get to the heart, which is just millimeters away.

Students generally learn the procedure by practicing on plastic models or through hands-on training with real patients.  This can take a lot of time as students often have difficulty learning to associate the 2D ultrasound image with a 3D image of the heart.

The HeartWorks project was developed to solve this problem by creating an animated 3D heart that beats in real-time to show the morphological changes during the cardiac cycle and could be synced with the use of an ultrasound probe.

HeartWorks ultrasound image with 3D heart model

Glassworks built the model using real imaging datasets and using the expertise of clinicians at the Heart Hospital.  A mannequin simulator allows hands-on teaching for the cardiac transesophageal procedure, allowing students to form those crucial spatial and visual associations.

This isn’t just another 3D heart model.  It really seems like an incredibly well thought out and in depth teaching tool. The model also has a textbook feature that allows students to click on structures in the heart and bring up the associated textbook description.

HeartWorks currently offers three different package options of the anatomical heart: an anatomy module, an ultrasound simulation package, and a mannequin simulator package.  It’s been commercially available since September 2008.

Visit HeartWorks to find out more information on this incredible teaching tool and to view a video of the model in action, a must see.

[Spotted by Nick on Gizmodo]