Scientists have developed a novel tool that may help surgeons plan for a life-saving operation (Fontan surgery), which is performed on babies born with severe congenital heart defects.
The tool has been developed by scientists from University of California, San Diego and Stanford University.
Babies who get this surgery have a developmental disease where one of the chambers - or ventricles - of the heart fails to grow properly.
This leaves their hearts unable to properly circulate blood through their lungs and starves their bodies of oxygen. The lack of oxygen turns their skin blue, a condition sometimes referred to as "blue baby syndrome" for that reason.
The Fontan surgery is one of three surgeries performed immediately after birth to replumb the circulation of children born missing their left ventricles.
Since there are risks, including exercise intolerance, blood clot formation, and eventual heart failure requiring transplantation.
Doctors carefully planning the surgery, starting with images of a baby's heart and then sketching out their plans.
UCSD's Alison Marsden has been working with surgeons at Rady Children's Hospital and Stanford University to develop a new computational tool to assist in this process.
"Our ultimate goal is to optimize surgeries that are tailored for individual patients so that we don't have to rely on a "one-size fits all" solution," said Marsden.
The tool first uses imaging data to construct a model of an individual baby's heart and then allows doctors to input their surgical designs.
The computer can then systematically explore different potential designs using powerful optimization algorithms, similar to those used in the aerospace industry for aircraft design.
It then applies fluid dynamics to simulate the blood flow after reconstruction. This way, says Marsden, surgeons can test their plans and evaluate blood flow patterns before operating.
The study was presented at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics.