Oct 3, 2015 | By Benedict

The last few weeks have seen 3D printers used to inspire a whole host of medical research developments. Yesterday, we saw how Prashant Kumpta and his team at the University of Pittsburgh developed a new, 3D-printed treatment for broken bones. Before that, Scientists from the University of Akron and University of Texas unveiled their pain-free, 3D micro-printed needles. Today sees news of a man from Zeeland, Michigan, whose defective heart was successfully operated upon by surgeons with the help of additive manufacturing technology. Thanks to a 3D-printed model of the muscular organ, surgeons were able to closely examine a replica of Nicholas Borgman’s heart, which provided them with further information and greater familiarity with its physiological defects. 

Patient Nicholas Borgman (left) is shown his 3D-printed heart by Dr. Joseph Vettukattil

The 3D-printed model, assembled at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, perfectly matched the shape and contours, internal and external, of Borgman’s heart prior to surgery. Printed in a rubber-like material called Tango Plusflx930, the model is not the first 3D-printed heart to be made, but it is innovative and unique for two reasons:

The first unprecedented feature of this particular 3D-printed heart relates to the imaging techniques used. 3D-printed models of hearts and other organs have, until now, been created using either CT or MRI scans. Dr Joseph Vettukattil, an interventional cardiologist and congenital heart specialist, explains that Borgman’s replica heart is the first to be made using a combination of MRI and 3D echocardiogram techniques. Using a combination of the two techniques provides a huge advantage for doctors, and the method looks as though it will rise in popularity henceforth. The combination is effective because the use of MRI scans produces the most accurate depictions of the interior and muscular tissue of the heart, whilst the echocardiogram is a more effective way of seeing the anatomy of the heart’s valves. 

Borgman, his mother Vicki, and Vettukattil

The second significant historical factor of the operation is its being the hospital's first case of a 3D-printed model being created prior to the actual surgery. This, and the ability to have a model of the organ at all, offers a huge advantage to surgeons: "A surgeon cannot cut the heart out and look at it. You want to have respect for the heart and cause minimum disturbance and disruption,” explained Vettukattil. “The surgeon won't see the back or side because the lungs and other organs are covering it.”

Having a 3D-printed model of Borgman’s heart allowed surgeons to closely examine all of its defects, to know exactly what they were dealing with before operating on the real thing. They could look closely at the back of the model heart, which cannot be done during the operation, as the surgeons make their incision through the patient’s chest.

All images from MLive

Delighted with the success of his operation, Borgman even took the brave step of having a look at his own (3D-printed) heart! At an appointment on the 22nd of September, Borgman met with doctors and had a close look at the rubbery object himself. "It's just amazing what they can do nowadays," said the patient. "I can't believe that's what my heart actually looks like inside." 

Vettukattil described how Borgman’s problem was high pressure of the heart, which caused its right chamber to enlarge to a dangerous size. "That pressure was going into the liver and the neck and kidneys and everything.” Using the model, Vettukattil was able to show Borgman exactly how his heart had been fixed. The doctor pointed out where excess muscle had been removed, where the new pulmonary valve had been placed, and where the mitral valve had been repaired.

Borgman’s mother Vicki was equally delighted with the operation and the 3D printing technique used to assist it. Nicholas’ condition, termed “pulmonary atresia with an intact septum”, relates to defects in the pulmonary valve, which prevent blood flowing properly from the heart to the lungs. Having known about the condition since Nicholas’ birth on November 22nd, 1989, and having seen him undergo three separate surgeries as a child, Vicki was understandably worried when a later checkup at the age of 25 revealed the serious problem of Nicholas’ enlarged right chamber. She was, however, reassured upon meeting with the medical team and seeing the 3D-printed model prior to surgery, calling that experience “the coolest thing ever”.

Doctors are hopeful that the operation will be Borgman’s last. Six weeks after surgery, tests revealed that the heart was functioning properly, and that the previously enlarged right chamber was shrinking at a good rate. Borgman, a cashier and maintenance worker at Quality Car Wash in Zeeland, has been cleared to return to work, and is already feeling the positive effects of the surgery: "I feel great," he announced. "I've gone for a couple of mile walks each day. I do feel as though I have more energy.”

Luckily for those afflicted with similar heart problems, the medical research is not stopping here. Vettukattil, who combined MRI and echocardiogram techniques for the model of Borgman’s heart, is now looking to employ a tri-pronged method to provide even more accurate 3D-printed heart models. The doctor believes that incorporating CT, in addition to the other two methods, will give an even better picture of a heart’s external makeup. Even more exciting for the medical community is research being conducted into the development of a CAD-designed animated heart model, which will enable doctors to see a heart beating rather than stationary, as was the case with Borgman’s model. Vettukattil believes that this development could be revolutionary.

"A better understanding of the 3D spaces will reduce the number of pediatric patients in need of palliative surgery, and in turn, the number of adult patients in need of corrective surgery," added Dr. Marcus Haw, lead surgeon on Borgman’s operation. "This type of surgery is especially applicable to those congenital heart patients age 20-50.” The use of additive manufacturing techniques in medical research shows no signs of slowing down, and Borgman’s 3D-printed heart is just the latest case of 3D printing techniques opening previously unimaginable doors in the world of medicine.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications





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karanjeet singh wrote at 10/6/2015 12:58:11 PM:

wow,where the technology has lead our life is unremarkable .

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