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OM in the News: Hospitals Printing 3-D Hearts to Help in Surgeries

October 23, 2016
A 3-D printed model shows cross sections of a child's heart

A 3-D printed model shows cross sections of a child’s heart

The night before operating on 2-year-old Myla Kramer, her surgeon held a copy of her heart, produced on a 3-D printer, in his hands. He studied it, trying to determine how to patch the many Swiss-cheeselike holes in the bottom of her heart — a potentially life-threatening condition. The next day, he knew exactly what to do. The surgery was a success, and Myla is thriving.  Without the 3-D printed heart, said Dr. Mark Plunkett, “There was a significant possibility that I would get in there, try to patch over this area, and not necessarily get all of the holes.”

Congenital heart defects are problems with the structure of the heart at birth. They’re the most common type of birth defect, affecting 8 out of every 1,000 newborns. The printed hearts can help doctors in tricky cases such as Myla’s, writes the Chicago Tribune (Oct. 23, 2016). Engineers typically take an MRI or CT scan of a patient’s heart and run the scan through computer programs that allow them to print plaster composite hearts in 3 dimensions. The process for Myla took 2 days at the R&D arm of the OSF HealthCare Hospital in Peoria. Jump’s 3-D printer cost $80,000.

With use of 3-D printed heart models expected to grow, OSF (a chain of 10 Illinois hospitals) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are partnering with the American Heart Association to improve the quality of printed hearts, with the goal of helping more patients. The groups want to create an online database of 3-D printed hearts from patients with congenital heart defects, reviewed by experts in the field. The idea is to help standardize the process of printing hearts. Practitioners, medical students and others would be able to download the models at no charge and print them or view them in 3-D using virtual reality tools. The Tribune article also links to a 50 second video describing the process.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. How else can 3-D printing be used in medical care?
  2. How are manufacturers now using the technology?
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