Though healthcare is yet to prove that 3D printed medical aids are better than conventionally-made models, academic research is gradually feeding positive data to the cause.
At the People’s Hospital of Zhengzhou University, China, a group of doctors have conducted a study demonstrating how 3D printed anatomical models are an asset to heart operations.
How to mend a broken heart
Zhenghou University’s study was conducted with a group of 25 patients, each affected by double outlet right ventricle heart disease (DORV). Present at birth, DORV is a defect that connects the aorta to the heart’s right ventricle alongside the pulmonary artery, instead of its rightful place in the left ventricle.
The condition, which affects between 1% and 3% of newborns with congenital heart defects, can be treated with surgery.
Eight patients in the Zhenghou study were divided into a 3D Printing Group. The remaining 17 patients formed a Non-3D printing Control Group.
3D printing patient-specific models
Patients in the 3D Printing Group underwent a procedure which was planned with the aid of a 3D printed anatomical model and CT scan data.
CT images used for the models were formatted in DICOM Standard Medical format, and post-processed using Materialise Mimics software. A patient-specific model was 3D printed at a 1:1 scale using a ZPrinter 650 SLA 3D printer originally from Z Corporation – now 3D Systems.
The Control Group on the other hand were treated without the use of a model, and only in reference to CT scans.
To asses the clinical value of the 3D printed models, a comparison of the two groups was then made considering the time taken to complete the operation, and the speed of the patients’ recovery.
3D printing speeds operation times and recovery
On average, surgeons succeeded in saving around 30 minutes of operation time due to pre-planning with 3D printed heart models. Patients in the 3D Printing Group were also shown to spend significantly less time recovering in intensive care.
Conclusions do note however that the sample size is a key limitation of the research. Larger group studies must be done to corroborate the discoveries.
A paper containing the results of this study, titled “Three-dimensional printing enhances preparation for repair of double outlet right ventricular surgery”, can be read online in the Journal of Cardiac Surgery. It is co-authored by Liyun Zhao MR, Sijie Zhou MR, Taibing Fan MD, PhD, Bin Li MD, Weijie Liang MD and Haoju Dong MD.
Can 3D printing transform healthcare?
One landmark case for the advantages of 3D printing in surgical planning is 3D Systems’ role in the separation of the conjoined McDonald twins. In China, a case at the Second Xiangya Hospital of Central South University details two 3D printing-enabled heart operations on patients aged 3 and 13.
It will be interesting to see how these programs and facilities flourish in the future.
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Featured image shows a 3D printed anatomical heart model. Photo via Materialise NV