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Rapid simulation of the heartbeat

Electrocardiography (ECG) is one of the measurement procedures most frequently applied in the everyday business of clinics. To improve the diagnostic significance of ECG signals it is necessary to analyze exactly the relation between the source of these signals, i.e. the electrical propagation of excitation in the myocardial, and the ECG signals measured on the body surface. Until now, this required a calculating time of several days. The numerical heart model presently in development at PTB now works fast enough that parameter variations can be performed within a few hours.

False colour representation of the sequence of a simulated electrical propagation of excitation in the heart of a rabbit

To an increasing extent numerical simulation procedures are being applied in biology and medicine to check hypotheses in physiology and pathophysiology. At PTB, a numerical heart model is being developed as part of a multisectoral project of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with Schering AG, Berlin, and the Charité Clinical University Centre Benjamin Franklin, Berlin, and other partners (University of Calgary, Canada, and Graz University, Austria). The PTB heart model simulates the electrical propagation of excitation in the myocardial in detail. The model is verified by a comparison with courses of electrical excitation measured in animals hearts.

Basic requirements for practical application are rapid algorithms and the use of parallel computers. Implementing special techniques (preconditioning, multigrid) recently enabled PTB to reduce the calculating time for one single human heartbeat, which so far amounted to approximately one week, by one order of magnitude. This time reduction makes parameter studies feasible at last.

Agreement between simulation results and experiment was impressively confirmed in an investigation into the effect of drugs.