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19th January 2017

Holograms show surgeons our heart in 3D

3D imaging will change how we diagnose disease, train doctors and build spare body parts – and may even allow us to see our unborn babies in the round long before they are born

Fans of Grey’s Anatomy (the hit TV show, not the classic textbook) were stunned: the medical drama has a habit of wowing viewers with occasional glimpses of the latest medtech gadgets but this one was breathtaking.

Watch how one surgeon illustrates the patient’s irregular heart valve by producing a 3D replica of the heart in real time.

But this isn’t science fiction or an Emmy Award Winning illusion by the special effects team. This is really happening.

3D imaging is changing how doctors diagnose disease and visualise patients’ organs during operations. It could even open the door to 3D printing of replacement organs.

Scientists at Imperial College London are combing this imaging revolution with breakthroughs in artificial intelligence to predict the outcomes of heart conditions like pulmonary hypertension.

By building 3D versions of patients’ hearts, doctors can mimic how the organ contracts with each beat. This allows them to detect irregularities and could even help to predict how long patients will live.

Other researchers are applying the same principle to view the kidney in 3D. By building 3D images based on multi-slice spiral CT scans, they can reliably diagnose kidney injuries (Download video at

The area is moving so quickly that scientific journals have begun publishing videos along with peer-reviewed articles. After all, describing 3D images in text or a still 2D photograph is not quite the same as seeing it in the round.

No more cadavers?

This game-changing technology is set to change everything. Medical education will never be the same again. While trainee doctors still rely on generous individuals to gift their bodies to science after their death, doctors of the future will do much of their training using holograms and virtual reality.

Watch how these students navigate their way through a virtual body.

No limits

Viewing the heart, the kidney or a bone as a 3D hologram is impressive. But imagine if you could do the same thing for in utero ultrasound… Wait – you can!

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