The Digital Heart Surgery: How robotics can advance the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease

Digital assistants in the intensive care unit, a digital assistant as data manager in the intensive care unit and an individualised digital twin for patients with congenital heart defects: These are some of the topics that physicians from the German Heart Institute Munich are researching in the lighthouse project Digital Heart Surgery with the support of researchers from the integrated robotics institute Munich Institute of Robotics and Machine Intelligence (MIRMI) at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

Technical expertise on the one hand and medical knowledge on the other are the focus of the Digital Heart Surgery research project. These two disciplines go well together. After all, images from inside the human body have been around since the first X-ray. Ultrasound images of the thyroid gland or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) slice images of an ankle joint after twisting it have long been part of everyday life in the health sector. And imaging procedures of the heart and its vessels are also used in cardiac diagnostics and therapy, whether slice images of the heart to detect inflammation of the heart muscle or an ultrasound of the carotid artery to detect calcification. Technology provides essential support to medicine in order to diagnose diseases appropriately and to treat patients optimally.

Sub-projects with MIRMI participation

In the Digital Heart Surgery lighthouse project, the aim is on the one hand to expand and refine imaging procedures, but also to develop completely new approaches that are data-based and enable predictions of courses or the representation of the heart or vessels as digital images. This requires specialised technical knowledge in machine learning, data analytics and sensor-driven systems that interact with humans.  

MIRMI is involved in the following individual projects:

  • Digital assistant as data manager in the intensive care unit

In the intensive care unit for cardiac and vascular surgery, many vital signs and diagnostic data flow together. However, due to diverse interfaces and different data formats, it is not easy to get a central view of the current situation. A digital assistant is set to change that, providing real-time patient monitoring.

  • Catheter tracking during heart surgery

Real-time catheter tracking facilitates minimally invasive heart procedures for the surgeon. To develop this new approach, modern imaging techniques (3D-MRI/CT) and an electromagnetic tracking system are used.

  • Determine the optimal stent for infants and children

In order to be able to determine suitable stent sizes for sick infants and children, for example, it is important to know the precise characteristics of the aorta. This is what a real-time model of the so-called fluid-structure interaction is supposed to do in the future.

  • Digital twin of the heart: improving the success prognosis of heart surgery

Heart defects such as Fallot's teralogy, in which the cardiac septum is permeable and blood can flow from one ventricle to the other, are discovered as early as infancy. In order to optimise the treatment, the scientists simulate the flow characteristics of the blood circulation and develop a digital twin of the heart.

  • Displaying vessels in 3D during the operation

Currently, heart surgeons work with two-dimensional images of vessels during an operation. X-ray machines that look at the vessels from different angles are already in use. The researchers now want to use this information to provide the surgeon with a three-dimensional image of the vessels during the operation.

Funding initially until 2024

The Digital Heart Surgery lighthouse project is initially scheduled to run for five years and is funded by the Bavarian state government and the Bavarian Ministry of Science with around five million euros. A follow-up project for the years 2025 to 2029 is already being planned.


11.07.2023 Digital Intensive Care Unit: Kai Wu on her research in "Deutsches Herzzentrum München" (Video)

14.12.2022 The digitale twin of the cardiovascular system

Project Leadership

Prof. Nassir Navab

Principle Investigator MIRMI

Chair of Computer Aided Medical Procedures & Augmented Reality

Boltzmannstraße 3

85748 Garching

Detailed information can be found on the Deutsches Herzzentrum München-Website