ALO ALTO, Calif. — Stanford University offers doctors a “room” with a unique view — the inside of an infant’s beating heart, valves opening and closing, blood cells rushing past. (Well, it’s unique if you discount the campy 1966 sci-fi thriller, “Fantastic Voyage.”)
The virtual reality project tackles what has always been a major challenge for medical trainees: how to visualize a heart in action in three dimensions. Through VR goggles, they can now travel inside the heart and explore congenital heart defects as if they have been shrunken to the size of a peanut.
“I can literally see where the blood’s coming from and where it’s going in a way that I never had,” Dr. Christopher Knoll, a Stanford pediatric cardiology fellow, said after trying out the prototype system last week for the first time.
When Dr. David Axelrod, who helped develop the virtual heart teaching tool, asked Knoll if he was ready to return to the real world, Knoll resisted. “No, I like it!” he said with a laugh.
The VR system is part of a growing push to use immersive 3-D visualization technology to improve medical and patient education. Microsoft’s HoloLens is being tested at Case Western Reserve University for teaching medical students anatomy and physiology, and a University of Michigan project takes doctors inside the brain to gain insights for treating migraine headaches.