(Not so) average heart model created using CT images

Researchers at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, have created a high-resolution, 3D atlas of the heart, providing a statistically average description of how the heart and its components look.

The atlas, along with its variations, can be used to compare individual cases and differentiate healthy forms from pathologies, according to an article published in the January issue of IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging.

"The statistics of the atlas offer a continuous range of exemplary heart shapes, which allows for the comparison of concrete cases as well as the calculation of probabilities of the latter belonging to the modeled population," Corné Hoogendoorn, researcher at Pompeu Fabra University, said in a release.

Hoogendoorn and colleagues created the atlas using CT images taken from 138 people. They developed a statistical model capable of managing high quantities of information provided by individual images. “It uses spatial normalization based on nonrigid image registration to synthesize a population mean image and establish the spatial relationships between the mean and the subjects in the population,” wrote the authors.

Temporal image registration is then used to account for temporary variations due to the motion of the heart and the various cardiac phases.

The major advantage of the atlas over other cardiac models is its level of detail and the possibility to extend the atlas, according to Hoogendoorn. Computational simulations of the heart electrophysiology and mechanics can be based on the atlas to plan treatments. "In our analysis the population group included 138 people but it could be applied to much larger populations," he said.

While the current atlas is of the heart, Hoogendoorn said the same method of using imaging to create a statically average atlas could be applied to other organs or structures.