Nov 11, 2016 | By Nick

The Bio-Inspired TEchnology research group at the Delft University of Technology has used a 3D printed model of a human heart to develop a new catheter that will save lives. The team, led by engineer Awaz Ali, worked with 3D printing company Materialise to additively manufacture the heart model which the catheter is being tested on.

The 3D printed heart, based off of real world data, is equipped with a vast array of sensors that can detail any contact between the catheter and the surface of the model. The newly developed catheter, which features "improved maneuverability", could open the door for using transcatheters for more and more complex cardiac procedures. 

Ali, the engineer behind the project, is currently working on an experimental set-up that will test the catheter in three different pathways through the cardiovascular system. By using the 3D printed heart, Ali and her team have been able to document the time it takes to complete certain procedures, as well as analyze the physical and mental loads it takes to perform the various tasks. This information will ultimately help with the research and development and will result in a more effective catheter.

She said: “I think 3D-printed models offer a completely new method for testing our instruments, allowing them to be tested in scientifically valid models which can be easily extended with additional requirements."

 “The testbed incorporates highly detailed anatomic structures such as beautifully mimicked heart valves and papillary muscles on the ventricular wall. Another main benefit was the fact that we could add as many additional requirements and specifications as we liked. A few examples are the following: a region for the atrial septum, multiple windows in the heart that can be opened and closed, and locally smoothened surfaces inside the heart.”

The new multi-steerable Sigma Catheter follows complex curves and the tip can move in a snake-like fashion. It can follow S and Z-shaped curves, as well as multi-planar curves, that are simply too much for the catheters we have today. This means that doctors could carry out more complex procedures with a transcatheter, rather than more invasive surgical options that typically carry a higher degree of risk.

Remi van Starkenburg, a precision technician at the Delft University of Technology’s Electronic and Mechanical Support Division, produced the working prototype based on Ali’s plans. But she needed to validate her theories. That meant she needed a realistic heart and vascular system to work with.

Traditionally, Ali would have opted for animal testing. That comes with its own ethical issues and limitations in terms of the subjects she could study and the time it takes for each procedure. So Ali turned to Materialise for one of its transparent 3D printed hearts.

Medical models have become increasingly important in recent times. 3D printing has allowed surgeons to produce physical representations of a patient’s specific condition and plan surgical procedures down to the last detail. It has also provided invaluable teaching aids as doctors can study particular conditions without having the patient in front of them.

Importantly, the 3D printed hearts have allowed the team to test their new device with a variety of theoretical conditions before putting the catheter into active service.  Additionally, the fact that the 3D printed heart is transparent also means that Ali can clearly visualize her catheter from a number of different angles and make the necessary adjustments on the fly. 

Once the test program with the 3D printed heart is complete, Ali will progress to testing her catheter on a beating heart. By then she’ll have a vast amount of data and the subsequent tests will be designed to validate her findings with the 3D model.

It’s clear to see, then, that 3D printed medical models can go well beyond simple physical representations of a particular patient’s condition. They can help the medical community devise and test new devices, reduce the reliance on animal testing and speed up the R&D process. The innovative project is just another example of 3D printing changing the way we work within the medical field.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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