May 13, 2014

The application of 3D printing has been most productive in the medical field. For example 3D printer can recreate a 3D model of heart using a digital medical CAT. For Dr. Matthew Bramlet (38), a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, 3D printer could be more than just a training tool.

A 3D printed heart allows the surgeon to see and feel the heart in his hands prior to surgery. This improves the pre-operative planning and makes the operation safer.

Credit OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

4-year old Luke Snodgrass of Geneseo, Illinois was one of the beneficiaries of the 3D printing technology. Shortly after his birth, doctors discovered he had congenital heart defect, a heart problem that's present at birth. Luke underwent major heart surgery when he was only 6 months old. As Luke approached age 3, surgeons told Luke's parents, Justin and Jennifer, that Luke would need a heart transplant. Concerns about the second procedure led Justin and Jennifer to seek a second opinion.

At Children's Hospital of Illinois, Dr. Bramlet told Justin and Jennifer about 3D printing technology that would provide a model for surgeons to visualize and understand what the surgery would look like.

The 3D printed model gave Luke's parents peace of mind in making their decision to move forward with the procedure.

"We saw an additional defect, an additional hole in the heart that's notorious for going unnoticed, and it changed the surgery. So, just the trial run made a tremendous impact that day." says Dr. Bramlet.

Last July, Dr. Randall Fortuna, a congenital cardiac surgeon at Children's Hospital, and his team performed the nearly 12-hour procedure. As predicted, it was a success.

"Dr. Fortuna, the cardiothoracic surgeon, that was operating on the patient called me from the O.R. saying, 'Matt, your heart tells the truth,' and it was that moment where he said, 'This is bigger than what we ever anticipated,'" says Bramlet.

Dr. Fortuna agreed that the 3D printing was invaluable. "Usually, the final decision on how to do a complex repair inside the heart can only be made at the time of surgery, when we're looking at the heart," Dr. Fortuna said. "But the information from the three-dimensional model gave us reassurance before surgery that we were likely to be successful."

Credit OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

But that was just the beginning. Dr. Bramlet wants now to expand the concept - to build a "library" of 3D printable hearts so future physicians could learn more from the collection. The pediatric cardiologist is hoping to build an online database of the best images of heart defects.

"Right now in the nation, there are a handful of pathologic libraries. These libraries have developed over the years, but the majority of these hearts were from autopsies back 50 years ago and they've been handled and used over the years and they're starting to fall apart. But they're not being replenished because of surgical advances and differences in how they're able to acquire these hearts and costs. And so, these libraries are disappearing," says Bramlet.

Dr. Bramlet says the idea is to get high-quality MRI and CT scan images from other medical institutions across the country so anyone can download and reproduce them. Holding the hearts and seeing the defects as they are would be an asset for medical education.

But to build the library will require help from others. Dr. Bramlet is asking other doctors and institutions to send him pre and post op MRI and CT scans of congenital heart disease at all ages. To get a good MRI or CT image of an infant with congenital heart disease before they are operated on is rare, says Dr. Bramlet.

The heart library will be based out of the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center. so if you can help, contact them at


Source: Peoria Public Radio

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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