Virtual Human Modeling Puts Simulation Tools in Clinicians’ Hands: Interview with Dassault Systèmes’ Karl D’Souza

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Anatomical simulation seen in the VR CAVE at Dassault Systèmes’ North American HQ, August 2017

Dassault Systèmes announced the Living Heart Project in May 2014, bringing advanced simulation capabilities into play for cardiac care, and soon began to expand the reach of the project with a collaborative agreement with the US FDA. Karl D’Souza, Virtual Human Modeling Product Manager at Dassault Systèmes, is the Senior Solutions Consultant for Virtual Heart Modeling, as through SIMULIA technology and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform 3D simulations of patient hearts offer a more personalized approach to healthcare. During this week’s 3DEXPERIENCE Forum, I sat down with D’Souza to learn more about the solutions offered via simulation. Also during the show, a new announcement was made for the Living Heart Project as it reached several milestones, including growth to 95 members worldwide, expansion to simulating drug interactions with the heart, availability on the cloud, and support of the FDA focus on simulation and modeling through the 21st Century Cures Act.

D’Souza, who the day after our conversation spoke in a plenary session entitled “Personalized Health Care in the Age of Simulation,” took me through the rundown of what his team has been doing with 3D heart modeling.

“We have an initiative in SIMULIA, Virtual Heart Modeling, where essentially what we’re doing is running into its third year now. The basic idea is to encourage and develop applying the use of modeling and simulation tools across the life science industry in general and in particular simulating different aspects of the human body,” he told me.

“The main reason for that is we have been working with life science for decades. When designing a device — whether a heart device, a knee implant, or a shoe — you are trying to design, and model, virtually, before you produce. When it is for a medical device, how do you ensure that it’s under conditions that simulate those in the human body?”

Karl D’Souza, Virtual Human Modeling Product Manager, Dassault Systèmes

Whether a shoe manufacturer like adidas or an advanced medical device maker, many businesses have been using simulation for a long time and have developed their own models for specific applications, D’Souza explained. They have “found a wide disparity in this nascent domain of modeling, without much coherence across approaches, in maturity.” Some have very sophisticated methods; others, like cardiac applications, have been seen to be “much less developed and mature, so it is hard to develop effective models of the human heart.” The team, he said, has been “trying to take our knowledge from other industries and domains in modeling and simulation to demonstrate the value to the life science industry and help our customers to develop these tools.”

Enter the Living Heart project.

“A few years ago, we introduced the Living Heart project; the basic concept emerged around 2013 after we introduced the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, for how to use our technologies to harmonize nature, products, and life. From our standpoint in the simulation space, having worked with medical device companies for a long time, we set ourselves the challenge to provide physicians with the same benefits that simulation engineers have been using for many years,” D’Souza told me.

“Could we build a computational model of the human heart and use that model to be able to improve the design of medical devices, to improve treatment? We’re computer guys and computer engineer guys; we are not clinical guys, or biomedical experts. So we reached out, and managed to bring together a community of leading experts in this area from four different domains: industry (device manufacturers), research and academic, clinicians (who are using this in patient care), and securing the support of regulatory bodies like the FDA, who are a key part of making this a reality.”

D’Souza discusses cardiovascular devices

Through the contributions of these collaborators, including medical technology companies like BIOMODEX that are focused on providing personalized solutions for physicians to help patients, D’Souza and his team have been working to “build increasingly significant models of the human heart and apply these to a range of applications.”

“This year, we are able to expand from devices into pharmaceuticals as well, using a heart model to predict if a specific drug is going to have a negative, toxic effect on the heart. We are putting these tools in the hands of the clinical community, putting them in the cloud to reach a much larger community, including the 3D printing guys,” he told me.

“This simulation technology available on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, on the cloud, can expand applications and reach into patient care, into pharmaceuticals. That’s where we are now, with what we can do with the Living Heart from Dassault Systèmes; we remain on this trajectory, making incremental, steady progress toward the ultimate goal of truly personalized simulations. We could build a model of your heart, your disease, your anatomy, and so enable your clinician, your caregiver, to predict how treatments might react, and ensure that these are personalized for you.”

He touched on some of the partners who have been helping to bring the Living Heart project to life, noting that they “have this very interesting set of collaborators, each of whom brings in different expertise.” D’Souza noted that while “it’s not always clear what the path forward is,” through regular communication between the broad network of collaborators, including monthly webinars and regular in-person meetings, they can together keep track to “see what’s next.”

“Facilitating cross-collaboration of people who might not have otherwise known about the other person, allowing to interact with each other, and the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, is all a big part of that. This is a key attribute of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, enabling critical care; problems are so big and complex that it’s impossible for one entity to say, ‘I have the full solution,’ it’s really going to be collaborative,” he told me of the collective approach.

Certainly co-creation and collaboration have only been becoming bigger buzz words as technology matures and sees additional applications in real-world, patient-facing solutions, and without doubt D’Souza is spot on that there will never be one single solution. The platform thinking underlying the entire 3DEXPERIENCE mindset can sometimes come off a bit ‘they all drank the Kool-Aid’ but the most heartening aspect about projects using these connected technology platforms is that they are showing themselves to be viable in real-world scenarios. The support gained through the platform approach is invaluable to the growth of individual solutions and companies, as well as to the increasingly digital world of industry as a whole. The community aspect running as a throughline throughout these partnerships and collaborations is a deep one, and D’Souza turned again to BIOMODEX as an example.

“With BIOMODEX, they are building interesting things, including 3D printed models that can behave mechanically like the real one would. A stiff model is okay if you’re interested in anatomical models and shape, but you need to simulate to see how things will interact,” he told me, echoing my conversation with the CEO of BIOMODEX. “This is the complexity of what I do every day. We see simulation helping people to navigate these procedures, to visibly improve patient health.”

In his presentation during the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum, D’Souza discussed the idea of personalized healthcare as a journey that Dassault Systèmes has been undertaking. In bringing solutions that engineers have valued for years to the medical arena, the idea is that modeling can help in healthcare. The launch of the Living Heart project initially brought together 38 partners in 2014, with a commercial version of the model released in 2015. The project additionally introduced “novel VR and AR technologies from Dassault Systèmes to bring the simulation to a much broader range of audiences,” he noted. In 2016, the project extended on “more challenging yet important projects like blood circulation, which is the main job of the heart”; that year also brought the Living Heart project onto the 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

I am today pleased to announce that the Living Heart model is now available on the cloud. In fact, we are now working on workflows in patient care, in addition to medical devices,” D’Souza said as the company officially launched the project to the cloud.

The cloud allows for a lower barrier to access the simulation technology, which the company notes offers “the speed and flexibility of high-performance computing (HPC) to even the smallest medical device companies.” Through an on-demand HPC model, any sized medical device/life sciences company can utilize the virtual testing and collaboration of the Living Heart project. The project, which has expanded to close to 100 member organizations encompassing medical researchers, clinicians, medical device manufacturers, and regulatory bodies, continues to bring open innovation to the medical scene; to date, the company reports that 15 research grant proposals have been supported via access to the model and its associated technologies and project expertise.

Scott Harris, Virtual Reality Systems Expert, slices through the simulated heart for a better virtual look

During my recent trip to the North American headquarters of Dassault Systèmes in Waltham, Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to directly experience the Living Heart project as Virtual Reality Systems Expert Scott Harris demonstrated its capabilities for me in the company’s VR CAVE. While I did not prove especially adept at visually slicing through the layers of the heart, even to my inexperienced medical eye the precision on the model was impressive. Rotating the entire heart and looking individually at each ventricle and chamber provided a much closer look into that all-important muscle. For physicians and medical professionals, the look into a beating heart offers unparalleled access to human — and individual patient — anatomy.

Join the discussion of these and other 3D printing topics at, or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]


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