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The Living Heart Project: Insights from a Global Collaboration

Posted By John M DeWitt, Wednesday, March 13, 2019

“If We Work Together, Can We Build a Human Heart?” This was the tagline for Steve Levine’s March 12 Leadership Spotlight session at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit. His captivating presentation detailed, in TED Talk style, his multi-year journey as a collaboration leader to find the answer to this question. (Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.)

Levine is the senior director of life sciences at Dassault Systèmes, as well as the founder and executive director of the Living Heart Project. He holds a PhD in materials engineering from Rutgers University, and in 2015 was elected as a Fellow in the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Levine opened his presentation by describing his current company, the 40-year-old Dassault Systèmes, a computer-aided design company that evolved to offer a “3D experience” software platform used by many industries and the public sector. Most cars on the road today, Levine said, are designed by Dassault software, which renders three-dimensional experience with visually as well as technically exact realism. Car manufacturers use Dassault simulation technology to not only design cars, but to crash test them as well. For example, BMW, a Dassault customer, stopped physically crash-testing cars in 2013.

Also in 2013, Levine began to explore the idea of building a virtual human heart, one that could be used to diagnose ailments and educate people about the organ. Even in the big data era, this was a truly enormous task, given the amount of detail that he and his team needed to fit in. They needed new models for tissue, fiber orientations, coupled multiphysics (the electrical impulses that control the heart muscle), valves, and hemodynamics (flow of blood through the heart), among other things.

The medical community already has the understanding of the heart necessary to build a digital one, but that knowledge is “deconstructed,” as Levine says, distributed around the globe in many minds and texts and databases. The single greatest challenge, then, was getting all of that knowledge into one spot, then applying it. Or, as Levine asked the audience, once the pieces are gathered, “Can we put it back together?”

In order to put the heart back together, Levine needed to bring together many of the best medical and engineering minds from around the world (his team had members from 24 different countries) in order to pool their knowledge and capabilities. To accomplish this, while protecting what most partners would consider their proprietary intellectual property, he designed a hub-and-spoke collaboration, with Dassault Systèmes at the center. By centralizing trust, he maximized the amount of information exchanged. Not surprisingly, as trust in the Dassault hub grew, the spokes became increasingly comfortable and increasingly open with sharing their knowledge to support the common mission.

In the end, this Herculean feat of collaboration allowed Levine and his team to launch a completed and realistically rendered digital heart into the cloud in 2015. This digital model is expected to pave the way for personalized heart models, used to determine more exact treatments, safer and faster tests for drugs, image diagnostics, and, one day, for this technology to be applied to a patient’s entire body. Doctors and pharmacists would then be able to better design a specific treatment for the patient in question, with no guesswork involved—because the treatment can be tested on the virtual model before given to the real human.

To learn more about Steve Levine and the Living Heart Project, visit www.3ds.com/heart. Stay tuned to the ASAP blog and Strategic Alliance publications for the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive coverage of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit.  

Tags:  3D experience  ASAP Global Alliance Summit  collaboration  Dassault Systèmes  life sciences  partners  partnership  Steve Levine  The Living Heart Project 

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