Regarding the power of 3D printing—which has led to an entire heart library—it seems safe to say that the surgeons behind it are certainly pleased as their knowledge base continues to grow and be shared, all thanks to a new program involving 3D printed heart models.
Both doctors and engineers alike are involved in the program at the Jump Trading Center of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center which hopefully is showing a glimpse into the future of medicine and how a portion of many of their librariesmight indeed one day look. Currently, the use of 3D printed heart models is already benefiting patients locally, within the central Illinois area—and in fact, the first one was 3D printed even before the facility opened in 2013. Today they have more than 40 hearts in the heart lab.
This of course is not the first we’ve heard of the benefits of using 3D printed models, as they are becoming more widely used throughout the medical profession and have proven extremely valuable in cases like diagnosing other conditions like brain tumors, as well as helping them to educate patients. Surgeons in other countries have used 3D printed models to assist in complex kidney surgeries, as well as pediatric heart surgeries.
The benefits to using 3D models are multi-faceted. Beginning with making a diagnosis, surgeons can then decide on a treatment plan. Beyond that the benefits of these models become even more complex as surgeons can use the models to plan out surgeries they may never have performed before. They can practice at length which offers security in knowing they can do a new procedure and do it well, allowing for savings of time in the operating room and less time for the patient under anesthesia. The models can be taken into the operating room as well, and used to navigate through the procedure. It almost becomes a part of the journey with the patient from A to Z, and helps to provide a better outcome.
With the heart library, doctors there are able to make more informed decisions on complex cases, and definitely serving as a positive example for other hospitals. Each model is specific to a particular case or condition, which is key.
“When we talk about congenital heart defects, we’re talking about a whole spectrum of defects.” Pediatric Heart Surgeon Dr. Mark Plunkett explains. “The challenge um for heart surgeons has been to define the anatomy to a level where they can actually tailor that repair to that particular child.”
With the heart models they are able to have a customized view and practice for each procedure specifically. While the traditional CT or MRI is probably going to play a role for a long time to come, with the extension of the 3D printed model, there is no guesswork. The removal of that barrier opens up communication on every level, and leads to much greater success.
“There were in the past scenarios where you would go to the operating room thinking the anatomy was one way because of all our imaging then open the heart up and discover that things were not exactly how you had anticipated,” said Plunkett. “This has been a game changer because I can sit at my desk the night before the operation and actually open the hearts up.”
At the 3D Heart Lab they plan to evolve much further as well. Currently they are working with more realistic materials such as silicone. They are also working with other hospitals and institutions around the US, assisting others who are able to solve cardiac questions and problems more easily with the benefit of items from the lab.
“Considering where we’ve come from in the last say 20 years or 30 years in terms of pediatric heart surgery this is nothing short of amazing.” Plunkett said.
The lab, while instrumental in aiding in the main parts of treatment and surgery, is also not to be overlooked when it comes to the value in training medical students—and especially the next pediatric heart surgeons. Materials have changed a lot for students, thanks to 3D printing. They are able to work with something very realistic, as well as completely customized to whatever condition or disease is being studied. Have you see or heard about anything like this in another facility? Discuss in the 3D Printed Heart Library forum over at 3DPB.com.