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Doctors Use 3D Printed Heart Replicas to Save Lives

At the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014, the researchers presented facts about a 3D printed heart replicas of a human heart that can help surgeons save lives. Babies who are born with complicated heart disorders are the perfect candidate for the 3D printed heart replica. The doctors can use the replica to determine the best way to operate and save lives.

Today, heart surgeons use images from X-ray 2D images, MRI, and ultrasound when planning for heart surgery. Unfortunately, these images can’t show the complex structural complications in the heart’s chambers. The infant is born with a congenital heart defect at birth and doctors need to see if there are holes in one of the chambers, or misrouted vessels and arteries before operating. 

Doctors have discovered, with the aid of detailed MRIs that they can design and build an accurate 3D model of the heart using different material. Doctors have used ceramic and plaster so far to print their models that show the most complicated structural abnormalities of the baby’s heart. 

Surgeons in the past never saw the heart before they opened the patient’s chest during surgery. Therefore, the surgeon had to stop the patient’s heart during the operation to look inside the heart to determine the best procedure. However, today with 3D printing the surgeons can have a better understanding of the problem and make a better decision as to how to treat the problems before going into the operating room. Therefore, if the surgeons are better prepared before the operation they have less of a chance of encountering surprises during the operation.

Matthew Bramlet, M.D., said that the 3D printed heart helps him to rethink his strategy before he operates that allows him to make better surgical decisions during the operation. The 3D printed heart model helps to provide a new dimension and understanding of the problem in the heart that 2D or 3D MRI images can’t provide.

The 3D printer technology was used to make 3 inexpensive plaster composites of a 9-month-old girl, a woman in her 20s, and a 3-year-old boy all born with congenital heart defects. After the surgeons study each case, traditional images, and the 3D model of the heart they were able to successfully repair the abnormalities in all three patients. 

According to Bramlet if you can see the problem with the heart, you can fix the problem and use a two-ventricle repair instead of the single-ventricle. That makes the difference in the patient’s life expectancy from two or three decades, to five or six decades. 

However, this study is only the beginning and it is still an emerging technology that so far is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, the researcher needs further study and proof that the 3D printed heart replicas help improve the surgical outcome. Nevertheless, the patient’s they tested using the 3D printed heart replicas gave the surgeon’s a better understanding of the heart’s anatomy prior to operating.


Julie Sinclair

Julie Sinclair

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