3D printing, a new technology field that is open to much improvement, is beginning to affect the way doctors are treating heart disorders. 3D heart models are giving doctors a more clear understanding of a patient’s specific problem, while at the same time, bioprinting is helping heal hearts that have been damaged from a heart attack.
3D printing produces an exact replica of the patient’s heart, allowing for doctors to analyze a patient’s anatomy. This model is decisive in the surgical planning process. It gives the surgeons the chance to see the procedure plan in their hand, giving them a depth perception and a chance to make any changes to the method because of things they may not see on a 2D model like an MRI. MRIs and other 2D models, like EKGs or CTs, are very hard to understand for even the best of doctors. It is hard to see the complex abnormalities some patients may have due to the 2D displays on which they would be viewed.
An example of these advantages is described by Dr. Matthew Bramlet, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Illinois. He illustrates an instance where he and his team believed a baby had one hole in the wall of one of the heart’s ventricles from an MRI. But the 3D model showed that there were actually multiple holes in the heart that had to be fixed, changing the operation. Bramlet also depicts a time where a baby had issues with the major arteries along with holes in the heart. The usual operation would destroy large amounts of heart tissue and reroute much of the blood flow so that the functions of the heart would be reduced to two functional chambers. But with the 3D model, the doctors found a way to spare all the heart chambers in the procedure, thus increasing the life-expectancy from 20-30 years all the way up to near-normal levels.
Along with 3D printed models making their way into the medical field, bioprinting, a new area of 3D printing, is making a splash. Bioprinting, a breakthrough made by a team from the University of Minnesota, gives those who have suffered a heart attack a chance to reduce the risk of future heart failure. When a person has a heart attack, blood flow is cut off, which leads to heart cells dying. This then creates scar tissue, which makes the person more inclined to have heart failure again. However, the research team from Minnesota found a way to mix heart stem cells onto a 3D printed patch that can cover the scar tissue, and allow new cells to grow over it. The patch also beats with the heart, acting like normal heart tissue.
The research team has only just made this discovery and tested it on mouse’s’ heart. The next step is to test it on a pig’s heart, nearly the same size as the human heart.
The research being done using 3D printing is groundbreaking technology that holds huge potential to be the solution to not only heart disease, but many other disorders. Researchers have only chipped into the tip of the iceberg with 3D models and bioprinting, and in the next few years, it is possible that people will see huge impacts in the medical field made by 3D printing technology.
Jack Timko ’19
Anwar, Shaft. “Using 3D Printing to Treat Complex Structural Heart Disease.” Stratasysblogs.com, 23 Feb. 2017, blog.stratasys.com.
Ghose, Tia. 3D-Printed Hearts Help Surgeons Save Babies’ Lives. Live Science, 9 Nov. 2014, www.livescience.com.