Washington: A 3-dimensional printed model of the heart, combined with standard medical images, may help surgeons treat patients born with complicated heart disorders, scientists say. Most heart surgeons use 2D images taken by X-ray, ultrasound and MRI for surgical planning.
However, these images may not reveal complex structural complications in the heart's chambers that occur when heart disease is present at birth (congenital heart defects), as opposed to developing later in life within a structurally normal heart.
But with standard 2D images as a guide, doctors now can build a detailed 3D model of the heart from various materials, such as plaster or ceramic, to reveal even the most complicated structural abnormalities.
"With 3D printing, surgeons can make better decisions before they go into the operating room," said Matthew Bramlet, study lead author from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria. "When you are holding the heart model in your hands, it provides a new dimension of understanding that cannot be attained by 2D or even 3D images. What once was used to build trucks, we are using now to build models of hearts," said Bramlet.
Researchers used an inexpensive plaster composite material to create heart models of a 9-month-old girl, 3-year-old boy and a woman in her 20s all of whom had complex congenital heart defects. After studying the models and traditional images, surgeons successfully repaired severe heart abnormalities in all three patients.
"You could see that if you make this compromise here, you could fix this problem, and go from a single-ventricle to a two-ventricle repair," Bramlet said. "That is the difference, potentially, between a life expectancy of two to three decades, to four, five or six decades," Bramlet added.