Photo-1-webA team of doctors and technicians at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital use 3D modeling and printing to help them visualize a patient’s complex cardiovascular anatomy and to explore potential options for treatments.

They use data collected via magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography image files to render their models, and 3D printing to build exceptionally accurate representations of the heart.

Dr. Redmond Burke, the Director of Cardiovascular Surgery of The Heart Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, says he uses the models to visualize heart surgeries in three dimensions and to imagine how his hands will move during each step of an operation. Burke says that actually holding and manipulating a flexible, 3D replica of a child’s heart allows him to plan an operation and configure the necessary patches in their exact shapes and dimensions.

3d printed heart model objet edenNow the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital has purchased their own Stratasys 3D printer for the work of Burke and other pediatric cardiac surgery and clinical research experts. The models have been a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to envisioning and planning surgical solutions for patient’s suffering from complex congenital heart defects. Until recently, those cases had been considered inoperable and beyond the reach of conventional imaging techniques.

Chelsea Balli, a Biomedical Engineer for The Heart Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, is credited with arriving at the optimal 3D printing strategy to create the models the team uses for their surgical planning efforts. Balli says the printing strategy gives the cardiac team the tools to create lifelike heart models which feature textures and colors which accurately approximate the qualities of human tissues.

“The printer was also designed to utilize water soluble support materials, which rapidly dissolve in a warm bath, leaving the heart team with perfectly clean and accurate heart models,” Balli says.

Balli said that the process of building the models took some 10 hours to complete and that just a day was needed to print out and finish the entire heart.

“These life-sized, three-dimensional models enable us to hold and manipulate the smallest arteries, veins and valves of the heart, and envision and plan complex repairs,” Burke says. “We intend to measure the impact of this technology on our surgical precision and outcomes.”

Nicklaus Children’s Hospital called on Stratasys Ltd. and Advanced RP, a 3D printing and rapid prototyping provider, to help them select the Objet Eden260VS.

“3D printing allows us to view the heart better than any photographic image,” says Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, the Director of Cardiac MRI for The Heart Program. “Having this technology at our fingertips opens doors to new treatment methods for the patients and families we serve. The possibilities are endless.”

The Heart Program made headlines when they used 3D printing to plan a complicated procedure on a child suffering from TAPVC, a very challenging heart anomaly.

3D Heart Model Chelsea Balli

Have you heard of any other instances where 3D printing and modeling technology have been used to help doctors take on medical problems previously thought impossible? Let us know in the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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