3D Printers

Chinese heart surgeons turn to 3D models

Chinese heart surgeons have turned to 3D printing to create accurate models of a patient’s heart before complex surgery.

The Chinese University and the University of Hong Kong have joined forces to help doctors to plan operations more effectively. They are not the only ones to do this and companies like 3D Life in Greece, GDMedTech in Ireland and The Jacobs Institute in Buffalo have all been beaten them to the punch.

That doesn’t matter to the surgeons at the Prince of Wales hospital in Sha Tin, though. They can now make use of this technological breakthrough to reduce surgery time and flag up any potential issues with each individual case before the surgeon makes the first cut.

Ultrasound to in your hand

An ultrasound image gives a clear impression that is them used to create a digital model. Through the magic of 3D printing, that model is then turned into a silicon version that gives the doctor a visual representation of the procedure before it happens.

Before the advent of 3D printing, these kind of models could take weeks to produce and the cost would be extraordinary. Now they can be made fast enough to fit into a meaningful workflow at a cost the hospital can bear.

The Chinese hospital has called on the 3D models for three procedures so far. These included an atrial appendage occlusion where the doctor inserts an occluder. That’s a very scientific name for a patch that covers a hole in the heart.

This is a precise procedure and having a clear picture of the individual patient’s heart and the exact location of the hole can save a significant amount of time in the operating theatre.


Poor placement is a real issue

Doctors have used ultrasound scans for a long time to help with the placement of the occluder, but incomplete coverage is a real problem. Some data suggests up to a third of patients that received an occluder suffered with problems related to poor placement.

Considering the cost of follow-up surgery, and the potential for complications, anything that can help avoid this in the future has to be a good thing.

It also helps the doctor choose the right sized occluder, which is more difficult than you might think. Without a model, a surgeon will often prepare a selection. If they opt for the wrong one then they have to retrieve it with a catheter and then fit the right size. This takes time and increases the stress on the patient.

“Personalised planning can be done before operation, and doctors would know which size of occluder to use with the model,” said Dr Alex Lee Pui-wai, assistant professor at the Chinese University’s division of cardiology.

Reduced surgery time will save money and patients

This is good for the patient as they spend less time under anaesthetic and the surgery is generally less invasive. It’s always going to be major surgery, but if the doctor knows exactly what he is doing in advance then he can cut down the collateral damage during the procedure.

It’s also good for the hospital, as reduced surgery times mean they can treat more patients and each individual operation costs a great deal less.

Having proven the potential of 3D printing for more advanced surgery, the hospital now wants to make these models standard practice. There’s no doubt that holding the problem in their hands can help doctors visualise the solution. This will save time and money in the long run.

These personalised models are a relatively recent innovation, but they are proving a welcome addition to hospitals around the world.

We’re sure you’re going to see more of this.