Dec 18, 2014 | By Simon

As more medical researchers adopt additive manufacturing into their toolkit, it seems like each day of the week reveals a new application for 3D printing in the medical sector.

While we have seen everything from 3D printed bones and skull implants to hand prosthetics and even ear cartilage, we have been yet to see a lot of development with soft-tissue applications.

More recently, researchers from the University of Western Ontario have developed an implantable solution for investigating the state of the heart...which has been manufactured using 3D printing.

Created by Kyle G. Fricke, under the direction of Dr. Robert Sobot, the wireless, implantable systems feature integrated blood pressure sensors, fully implantable cardiovascular pressure monitors (including a stent), and measure in at a tiny 2.475 cm3 and weigh just over 4 grams.

As data that is being collected within the body is proving to be more accurate than data collected externally, such as those by X-rays and MRI methods, more research is being put into developing small biomedical sensors that can travel throughout the body such as those designed by Fricke. Fricke's sensors are so small that they can be placed inside the left ventricle of even the smallest lab mice without issue.

While there are existing systems that can measure heart activity without resorting to unhealthy external scans, they rely on generating a continuous electric field that measures activity and the catheters are attached to an external monitor. In contrast, Fircke's low-cost 3D printed solution is able to wirelessly relay the necessary data without causing movement restraints for the patient or the medical professional.

"3D printing technology using biocompatible materials like polycarbonate-ISO and various metals can be used to produce the sensors," said Fricke. "The only part that can't be printed is the battery, which has to be attached to the underside."

Fricke's contribution to cardiac health research joins efforts from other professionals in the field who using 3D scanning and 3D printing to help advance efforts for fielding heart defects and other ailments.

Among other applications that 3D printing has had in cardiac health research include recreating tiny hearts that replicate those seen in young children, which are extremely sensitive for surgery due to their small size.

Dr. Matthew Bramlet, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Children's Hospital of Illinois is among those who is using 3D printing to aid in their cardiac-related surgical procedures. Specifically, Bramlet 3D prints a heart that matches his patient's before going into surgery so that he has a better understand of the heart's defects and how he can approach fixing it in surgery.

"Holding [the heart], a surgeon could much, much more easily determine how to appropriately perform that surgery," Bramlet said in an interview with Live Science.

"Since the first repair, the team has gone on to create eight or nine heart replicas, and all of them have improved the surgeon's understanding of the heart anatomy prior to the surgery," he added.

Between 3D printed biosensors and 3D printed hearts themselves, it's clear just how much of an impact additive manufacturing is having on the future of cardiac surgery.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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