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3D Printed Hearts are Saving Lives

When confronted with a difficult surgical procedure, doctors have worked blind, not knowing what to expect until an incision was made. Recently, researchers have been making inroads with the use of 3D printing to replicate organs for training, practice, pre-planning surgery and patient education.

Dr. Dinender Singla, professor of medicine at the Burnett School of Biomedical Science, College of Medicine at the University of Central Florida, is at the forefront of this new technology. He is working on the development of customized 3D printed heart models to aid surgeons in complex pediatric procedures. Dr. Singla’s mission is to make advanced 3D heart models available to doctors.

He says,

The goal is to give doctors a tool they can use that accurately reflects what they will be seeing when they go into surgery. It can make for better outcomes.

The 3D printed surgical models are becoming more complex, detailed and customized for patients and specific conditions. Different colors are being used to differentiate heart defects. The printing materials are being adjusted, using soft materials for soft tissues and hard materials for the external parts of organs.

Color-coded 3D Printed Heart

Color-coded 3D Printed Heart

The anatomically correct hearts are customized using computer tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. The 3D printed hearts are already being used in the United States in surgical procedures and are becoming accepted around the world.

In China, a 3D printed heart was used for the first time to pre-plan and successfully complete open heart surgery on a nine-month old baby suffering from Total Pulmonary Venous Anomalous Drainage, a congenital heart defect where one of the four pulmonary arteries is defectively arranged.

To plan for the surgery, the Chinese team used a 3D printed heart replica to address the baby’s malpositioned pulmonary veins and atrial septal defect. The surgery was a success and the baby is expected to recover with no unwanted side effects.

A 3D Printed Heart

A 3D Printed Heart

Doctor Zhang Xuegin, the child’s surgeon says,

With the model, we were able to know precisely where and how we should cut, and how big the incision should be. And with such a thorough plan, we spent only half the time we had expected to complete the surgery.

The use of 3D printing is being used for other organs as well and is even being used in veterinary science.

The goal is to eventually use printers to produce actual organs that can be transplanted into patients; just replace the rubber and plastic printer “ink” with human cells.

3D printing is revolutionary for medicine. The future is now.