Additive manufacturing (AM) has more to offer the world than rapid prototyping and aerospace parts. That isn’t to say those functions of the technology are without merit, but the medical uses of AM directly improve the lives of people around the world. In the case of Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH), 3D printing helps save the lives of kids with heart defects.
Doctors routinely use CT scans to get a picture of a patient’s condition prior to surgery, but any image, even one constructed in three dimensions, still suffers from the two dimensional platform it inhabits. AM gives doctors a chance to see a color-coded, true scale model of a heart that they can not only examine with their eyes, but touch as well.
Printing a model of a child’s heart can also help ease the mind of parents at least a little before surgery, by making it easier for PCH surgeons to more accurately describe what is wrong and demonstrate what can be done to fix a defect.
“To be able to tell the parents more precisely what I’m going to do, and what I’m going to encounter—even though I do tell them about variations and variabilities to the plan—I’m more at ease and more certain,” said Daniel Velez, M.D., congenital heart surgeon at PCH in an interview with Raising Arizona Kids‘ Vicki Louk Balint.
The actual printing of a heart model takes around three hours, and each section of the heart is color coded to assist the medical team to visual how surgery will proceed. Not only does a printed model help the surgeons, it also reduces the number of scans a patient must undergo, which means subjecting a child’s body to less radiation.
PCH isn’t the only entity to see promise in AM-created heart models. Heart in Your Hand is a new company that specializes in manufacturing 3D printed heart models. The company intends to expand heart modeling beyond defects and into other trouble areas such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, and valvular heart disease.
Below you’ll find a video about the 3D heart modeling work being done at PCH.