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Arrhythmia Research Breakthrough

Video games help doctors diagnose deadly heart disease

In a world first, doctors at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute have used computer gaming technology to help better diagnose patients suffering from a heart rhythm disease. This life threatening, electrical disorder kills 12% of Australians by stopping the heart from pumping blood effectively – causing sudden death.

Using the same technology that powers video games, researchers have been able to build a virtual heart and simulate hundreds of thousands of heart beats. Scientists then screened all of those heart beats searching for abnormalities.

Dr Adam Hill, a Computational Cardiologist at the VCCRI, and a senior author on the study, says the findings take us a step closer to understanding rhythm disturbances in the heart.

“This research is hugely exciting! We were able to identify why some patients have abnormal ECG signals, and how a person’s genetic background can affect the severity of their disease,” Dr Hill said.

Analysis on this scale has never been possible before. The simulation took just ten days, thanks to the CSIRO’s multimillion dollar Bragg supercomputer, that’s been ranked in the world’s top ten most efficient computers. The super computer combines traditional CPUs with the more powerful, Graphics Processing Units (GPUs).

GPUs have typically been used to render complex graphics in computer games. However they can also be used to accelerate scientific computing by multi-tasking on hundreds of computing cores.

By comparison, if you were to use a standard desktop PC, it would take 21 years to get the same job done.

“In the past we were limited because we didn’t have enough computational grunt to do an effective job.”

Dr Hill and his colleagues hope the discovery will open the door to better diagnosis and much better treatment.

“We hope this will help doctors read ECGs more accurately, which will mean faster, more accurate diagnosis. By understanding why the same disease affects people differently, the right treatment can be given to the right patients.”

Scientists at the Victor Chang Institute are now using these discoveries to develop automatic computerised tools for diagnosing heart rhythm disorders.

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