Sep 8, 2016 | By Nick

Doctors at Singapore’s KK Women and Children’s Hospital have adopted 3D printed models to help them treat children with complex congenital heart defects.

Medical models have become an integral part of treatment programs around the world and it was even employed at the KK hospital for head injuries and bone defects. But, until recently the hospital still relied on 2D scans and printouts to diagnose and treat heart problems.As doctors always take MRI scans with heart defects, they already have the basic building blocks for a 3D model. They simply have to run the data through 3D modeling software and the 3D print can take just two hours.

MIT researchers pioneered the process last year and now doctors around the world can have a model as part of the standard diagnostic package. This can prove invaluable and doctors at the KK Women and Children’s Hospital have hailed the project as a resounding success.

“When patients have congenital heart disease, they have varied conditions that come in combinations,” Dr Chen Ching Kit told Todayonline. “So, depending on the complexity, normal imaging may not be able to give us the best information. When it comes to very intricate and complex combinations of heart problems, 3D printing will give us very good visual and spatial orientation of what is going on inside the heart.”

The doctors have found that the advantages go well beyond the simple ability to hold the affected heart in their hand. The doctors can actually cut the model, size up the individual’s specific defects and plan their surgical cuts.

It’s effectively a warm-up for the actual surgery and gives the doctor the chance to run into potential problems on a 3D printed model, rather than in theatre. This chance to plan the surgery in advance also means the surgeons can spend less time in the operating theater, which is better for the patient and also saves substantial amounts of money.

When surgeons are dealing with small children or babies, it can also help to enlarge the heart and print out a bigger version so that doctors can truly get to grips with the issues they face before the procedure.

“There are many challenges operating on tiny hears and good pre-surgical planning work is critical to enhance success and to achieve optimal patient outcomes,” said consultant cardiac surgeon Dr Nakao Masakazu.

When the doctors encounter a particularly interesting case, they can order a 3D model to use as a teaching aid for other surgeons, too. Dr Ching Kit recently treated a baby with a double outlet left ventricle, which causes low blood oxygen levels.

Now the hospital has the model, Dr Ching Kit can explain the treatment process more effectively to junior doctors, who might otherwise have encountered this problem for the first time when they come up against it. A number of companies have sprung up around the world to cater for the growing market in medical models and the 3D prints themselves are getting increasingly complex.

Multi-material 3D printers now produce 3D prints of organs and blood vessels in a variety of different colors. The more advanced models can even mimic the consistency of the affected parts, so doctors can go through a proper dry run of a surgical procedure before they go in to theater.

This is especially useful for congenital heart defects and other complex problems in children, as there are all manner of rules regarding junior doctors working with cadavers. Essentially, children’s bodies cannot be donated to medical science and so models can be the only way to introduce trainee surgeons to complex problems that they may well have to deal with later on.

Marterialise NV and Creatz3D supply the models and the former recently called for an evidence-based assessment of medical 3D printed models. But the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming and 3D printing is become a go-to diagnostic tool for a number of hospitals around the world.

The KK Women and Children’s Hospital carried out approximately 200 procedures on congenital heart defects every year. It has no intention of producing 3D models for every one of them, though, and will save the filament for the 1% of cases it considers complex.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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