Medical & Dental

University of Kentucky’s $5 3D printed heart models aids physicians and patients

Michael Winkler, associate professor of radiology and cardiology at the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Medicine, is 3D printing custom heart models to aid physicians and their patients. 

“Fitting patients with new heart valves or stents is challenging because everyone’s anatomy is slightly different in size and shape,” explained Professor Winkler.

“Doctors are very good at ‘guesstimating,’ but about one-third of the time their guess is off and a $30K valve has to be thrown away. It’s wasteful, it’s expensive, and the procedure takes longer, which is hard on the patient.”

Thus, 3D printed hearts, costing $5, are being produced as an accurate, pre-surgical tool to enable precise fittings of heart assisting implants.

A 3D printed heart model. Photo via the University of Kentucky.
A 3D printed heart model. Photo via the University of Kentucky.

Heart of plastic

Professor Winkler and members of the University of Kentucky’s School of Art and Visual Studies (SAVS) began converting imaging files into 3D print heart models to empower patients at the University’s Gill Heart & Vascular Institute

“Why is it important to print a heart? Well, the first, is allowing the patient ownership of their own disease and their own care,” stated Professor Winkler. “If they can possess their own organ and see what it was like before and after surgery, [that] makes the whole process more sacred than profane.”

Outside of this, the 3D printed hearts are being used for educational purposes as well as simulation tools for surgeons. In one challenging case, Dr. James Quintessenza, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at the University’s Kentucky Children’s Hospital, had a young patient with a rare valve deformity. A 3D print of his patient’s valve from Professor Winkler helped to identify a problem that wasn’t seen with traditional imaging studies.

“Having this information beforehand was critical to [the procedure’s] success,” added Dr. Quintessenza. “3D printing is common, but this technology adds a critical level of resolution, which ultimately translates to better data for physicians and better value for the patient.”

Professor Michael Winkler. Photo via the University of Kentucky.
Professor Michael Winkler. Photo via the University of Kentucky.

3D printing and heart treatments

Elsewhere, anatomical heart models have also been fabricated using different 3D printing technologies to further understand diseases. Last year, 3D Systems partnered with the non-profit organization OpHeartHeart-in-Hand Pledge to produce heart models using ColorJet 3D printing.

Some research has delved further into using additive manufacturing for heart treatments with 3D bioprinting. Recently, scientists from ETH Zürich, Switzerland, and South African medical device manufacturer Strait Access Technologies (SAT) commenced development of 3D printed artificial heart valves from silicone. This is presented as a cost and time effective solution to the growing demand for heart valves.

For more additive manufacturing research news, subscribe to the 3D Printing Industry newsletter, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Sign up to 3D Printing Jobs to post and find new opportunities near you.

Featured image shows a 3D printed heart model. Photo via the University of Kentucky.