3-D Printing of Hearts

Nearly one out of every 100 newborns in the United States is born with a heart defect. As medicine has evolved over the recent decades, with the advent of technology such as high-resolution cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cardiac computed tomography (CT) scanning, our ability to examine and understand a child’s heart has vastly improved. Thanks to advancements in 3-D printing technology, we can now take this understanding to a new level.

Rigid 3-D Heart Model

                                     Rigid 3-D heart model (model is enlarged to show greater detail).

Using 3-D printing technology, a physician can go from evaluating an image of a patient’s heart on a screen to holding a lifelike model of it in his hands. This not only allows physicians to visualize the heart’s anatomy in ways never before possible, but gives them a powerful teaching tool.

The implications of this technological breakthrough are far-reaching: 3-D modeling will allow physicians to more effectively plan and evaluate complex surgeries, to broaden patient-family education and to deepen instruction for faculty, residents and students.

Here at Rady Children’s Heart Institute, our cardiac surgeons, led by John Nigro, M.D., are currently using 3-D models of congenital heart defects to plan complex heart surgeries and educate patients and their parents about the procedures.

First in San Diego

Rady Children’s is the first hospital in San Diego with a 3-D heart modeling program, under the direction of Sanjeet Hegde, M.D. To create the model, Dr. Hegde puts the imaging data from a patient’s cardiac CT and MRI scans into a special software program to generate a computer-aided design file. The file is then sent to the 3-D printer, which prints out a physical model of the heart.

Various materials including plastic and photopolymers are used to make these models. The models are either flexible, at actual size, or rigid, which are enlarged to show greater detail.

Dr. Hegde is collaborating with biomedical engineers at UC San Diego and with local 3-D printing companies to make the incredibly precise models. Based on the successful creation of these models and the benefits they can have for patients, our Cardiology division has been awarded a one-year internal research grant. The funds will be used to commission the production of 10 heart models and to evaluate their usefulness in planning complex heart surgeries and interventional procedures, as well as for educating patients and teaching junior physicians.

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