Mar 22, 2016
Doctors at the University of Central Florida have used a 3D printed model heart to help surgeons perform a life-saving operation on a baby. Staff and students and the UCF College of Medicine used medical imaging data to create a 3D printable replica of the infant’s heart.
When mother-to-be Genevieve McKay was told that her unborn baby Ronan was suffering from a serious heart condition, she naturally feared the worst. McKay was 27 weeks pregnant when doctors gave her the news—news which at first she refused to believe. When the shock subsided, talk turned to practical matters: how could doctors best tackle the terrifying problem faced by McKay and her unborn child?
A team of medical professionals from UCF decided that 3D printing could help to give little Ronan the best chance of survival. For some time, staff at the university’s College of Medicine, led by Professor Dinender Singla, had been perfecting a method of 3D printing model hearts with which surgeons could practice techniques. “The goal is to give doctors a tool they can use that accurately reflects what they will be seeing when they go into surgery,” Singla said. “It can make for better outcomes.”
In the case of baby Ronan, as with other patients, the UCF doctors used CT and MRI scans to generate a 3D model of the affected organ. This 3D model was then 3D printed on a MakerGear 3D printer, a process which usually takes between four and seven hours. Models depicting problems on the outside of the heart or with the valves feeding blood to the muscle take less time to 3D print than those depicting delicate internal structural problems. Although the UCF team currently focuses on infant surgeries, the techniques could easily be adapted to work with adult hearts.
The 3D printed model of Ronan’s heart was inspected and practiced upon by surgeons, with several features added during the design process to make life as easy as possible for the operating surgeons: “We can completely print the heart and depict in two different colors where disease is happening,” explained Singla. To give the surgical team extra flexibility, models can be printed in hard polymers or softer material to more realistically demonstrate physiological defects.
With every successful 3D printing-assisted heart surgery performed by the team, new information is gathered which helps contribute to the next case. “We’re learning stuff all the time,” said Dr William DeCampli, a pediatric surgeon at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, faculty member at the UCF College of Medicine, and the doctor responsible for delivering baby Ronan. “Any step we can eliminate, so that we can get right down to the repair, go in, and know exactly how we’re going to connect A to B and B to C, will help the child.”
Ronan’s mother was incredibly grateful both to the UCF doctors and the 3D printing technology used to save her child’s life: “To know that they have a broken heart and that someone can fix it and that they can live a pretty normal life? That’s a miracle.”
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