3D printing puts hearts in cardiologists' hands


October 17, 2018

3D printing puts hearts in cardiologists' hands

Exact replicas of patients' organs lets doctors figure out their approach and what devices they'll need -- before showtime. 

A study published this week reflects that more patients than ever who need aortic-valve heart repair are doing so via a catheter instead of open surgery.

To see one of these catheter procedures is to marvel at the cardiologist’s ability to take cues from a real-time scan to position a replacement valve or other device in the exact right spot.  What guides them is akin to a fuzzy black-and-white TV image. (Millennials won’t understand that reference, but go with me here.) Anyway, there’s no denying catheterization’s advantages: It appears to be as effective as surgery, patients' recovery times are far shorter, and costs are less. And it’s a option for people who need a repair but can’t undergo surgery due to other health concerns.

3-D printing is one recent advance that helps UW Medicine cardiologists plan these procedures. At the Center for Cardiovascular Innovation, scientist Dmitry Levin prints out 3-D replicas of patients’ hearts, which gives practitioners like Mark Reisman a chance to plan his approach to a catheter repair, to see which valve or other device will fit the patient’s vessel exactly. It eliminates the off-the-shelf selection and cuts down the time a patient is under anesthesia.

In his basement lab, Levin takes high resolution CT scans of patients’ hearts and, with software, transforms them into perfect 3-D models of flexible plastic. He can omit a section of cardiac wall so it's easier to see inside the model.  It takes one to two hours for a heart to be printed, one millimeter of depth at a time, but the benefits of the investment are clear.  

“By having the 3-D hearts, we can literally practice or … better understand what to anticipate within the context of the procedure,” Reisman said. “It allows you to hold (the replica) in your hand.. I think it will make procedures safer and more refined.”

Watch (below) or download a video segment about UW Medicine’s use of 3-D printed heart models.

Brian Donohue - bdonohue@uw.edu, 206.543.7856