Jan 27, 2015 | By Alec

It’s no secret that 3D printing has a lot of potential in the medical field. In recent weeks we’ve reported on a number studies looking to develop bio-printed skin tissue, organs; the possibilities are seemingly endless. But while most of these studies will take years to produce working medical practices, there are other 3D printed medical applications that are already saving lives right now. Most significantly: anatomical models that can be used to help surgeons prepare for risky operations.

We’ve already seen a number of doctors discussing the benefits of accurate 3D printed replicas of organs, bone structures and so on, but a new case from Britain shows that these can truly save lives too. The two-year-old Mina Khan from the Manchester area was born with a rare condition where the wall between two of her heart chambers was punctured. The hole was located exactly between her ventricles, that control the circulation of blood. The condition left her constantly tired and very sickly. She even lacked the energy to eat, while here hair wouldn’t even grow. It could even, doctors feared, result in her death.

This type of surgery is typically very risky, but fortunately the doctors from the St Thomas' Hospital in London resorted to 3D printing. They developed a plastic replica of the girl’s tiny heart – including the defect. This 3D printed facsimile allowed them to properly prepare for the necessary surgery, maximizing their chances of success. And they were successful too. As her mother, Natasha Buckley from Bury told reporters, ‘Mina is like a normal little girl now. She is eating, has stopped being sick and is growing at last.’

To create the replica of Mina’s heart, the doctors at St. Thomas’ Hospital used Materialise's Mimics software to convert CT scans into a 3D-printed model and 3-matic to design a virtual bespoke GORE-TEX patch in order to plan the procedure. Of its usefulness, the head surgeon, professor David Anderson said: ‘Mina had a very complex hole in her heart - the kind of case that can pose a 'huge intellectual challenge. The 3D printing meant we could create a model of her heart and then see the inside of it with a replica of the hole as it looked when the heart was pumping. We could go into the operation with a much better idea of what we would find.’

The exact replica of the patient’s heart also helped the surgical team visualize and better understand the complicated procedure of stitching the patch into place. The accurate 3D copy of the organ allowed them to explore the inside, see the exact dimensions and position of the hole, so that they knew what to expect when going into the operating room. It also facilitated communication between the surgeons and increased their confidence.

Mina and her mother being interviewed on BBC Breakfast.

While surgeries like this one certainly can succeed without the help of a 3D printer, it thus definitely increases success rates. It’s therefore hardly surprising that medical experts are expecting that 3D printed ‘practice organs’ will be widely adopted in the medical world in the coming years.


Thanks to Liesbeth for the info.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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