Medical & Dental

3D printed hearts aid American Family Children’s Hospital surgery

A group of surgeons at American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH), Wisconsin, are collaborating with engineers at the University of Wisconsin Madison to use 3D printing to prepare for pediatric heart surgeries.

Practise before it matters

3D printing as a surgical planning aid has been pioneered by hospitals like the Phoenix Children’s Research Institute which, under Dr Justin Ryan and Dr Stephen Pophal, has focused on translating advances in 3D printing to medical research.

The team at AFCH, led by Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos, has been scanning patients’ hearts using traditional medical scans to create 3D printed models that surgeons can interact with before entering the operating room. The benefits are clear, says Dr Anagnostopoulos, “There’s a lot of ability to see the relationship of the different parts of the heart as they are in real time. It prepares your whole team better”.

One patient, six year old Joseph Oehlof, had a heart condition that may have required a transplant. Dr. Anagnostopoulos was able to prepare for the complex surgery using 3D printed models, which he says improved the surgery’s chances of success.

An example of a 3D printed heart used for surgical planning. Photo via University of Wisconsin.
An example of a 3D printed heart used for surgical planning. Photo via University of Wisconsin.

Translating advances in engineering to the hospital

Roldan Alzate and his team of engineers helped the AFCH develop the technique, though he believes the potential of 3D printing in the medical field is only beginning to be realized, “Everywhere in the human body would benefit [from] 3D printing. This is only the beginning.”

Another hospital in Zhengzhou, China, has conducted a small study showing that heart surgeries on patients with the same heart condition are around 30 minutes faster when surgical planning is aided by 3D scans of patients’ hearts. Though further studies are necessary to corroborate their findings, it is clear that 3D printing is becoming a regular part of surgical planning around the world.

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