Dec 16, 2016 | By Julia

A team of researchers at the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute are developing 3D printed replicas of patients' heart valves that could help save them suffering from cardiac disease.

Based on detailed imaging from CT scans, engineers can now 3D print an exact replica of an individual patient’s’ heart valve. These customized models match the size and proportion of a patient’s biological heart valve, but more importantly, they also mimic physiological qualities like how it responds to pressure. The end result, for many, could mean the difference between life and death.

the 3D printed heart valves meticulously recreate the patient's biological valve

While the 3D printed models could have various applications, the Georgia Tech initiative is focused mainly on helping surgeons who treat aortic stenosis, a life-threatening condition causing the left heart ventricle to constrict, forcing the heart to overwork in order to pump blood. Aortic stenosis is commonly associated with elderly patients, and is becoming increasingly prevalent as the population ages. If left untreated, it can lead to severe complications and even heart failure.

Treating the condition is tricky. Besides open-heart surgery, doctors can perform a procedure known as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), which involves using a catheter to replace the patient’s impaired valve with a prosthetic one. Prosthetic valves are readily available in a range of shapes and sizes from different manufacturers, but matching the prosthetic to the patient’s natural heart valve can prove extremely difficult. Finding a perfect match is essential to prevent blood from leaking around the implant.

“The issue is, everybody is different,” explains Chuck Zhang, Professor at the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “A male will be different than a female. It’s a big challenge for the doctors to select the right type of prosthesis for a specific patient.”

That’s where 3D printed models can help. Creating a customized model valve that moves, feels, and stretches similar to the patient’s original valve can ensure doctors choose the right prosthetic. By using data from a CT scan of the patient’s own valve, the Georgia Tech project means doctors can examine the personalized model in detail, and pick the correct prosthetic before even picking up a scalpel.

Kan Wang (left), a Georgia Tech researcher, and Zhen Qian of Piedmont Heart Institute examine a 3D printed heart valve

A multi-material 3D printer creates the models, enabling researchers to adjust the design parameters according to individual patient needs. The end result is a replica that mimics the original heart valve practically perfectly. Even patient-specific conditions (such as calcium deposits) can be recreated in the 3D printed model, allowing doctors to select the best fitting implant for the patient.

“The results are quite encouraging,” says Zhen Qian of the Piedmont Heart Institute, a project partner. “Our printed model is able to tell you before the procedure how much paravalvular leakage there will be and where it is, a good indicator for short- and long-term mortality.”

As of now, the Georgia Tech team has 3D printed over twenty heart valve models, all derived from actual patient imaging.

But researchers are keen to push the project even farther. Currently Zhang is experimenting with embedding sensors on the wall of 3D model valves, which could assist in monitoring pre-surgery practice. “There is big potential for these models,” Zhang says. “We’re thinking in the future this may be a standard tool for pre-surgery planning and for training new surgeons.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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