Doctors at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute utilize 3D printing technology from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing to recreate accurate models of their patients’ hearts before performing surgery.
As the physicians at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute (TCAI) can attest, the heart is an enormously complex organ; no two human hearts are exactly the same. In fact, because of the organ’s complexity, it is virtually impossible for even the most brilliant physician to diagnose a heart condition without extensive imaging of the patient’s heart. While CT scans, echocardiograms, and ultrasounds, among other technological advances, have made incredible progress for doctors in the field of cardiology, the study of heart conditions, there’s no comparison to being able to see an actual model of the human heart in question—one the physician can hold in his or her hands.
Dr. Vikram Devaraj, director of solid materials research for the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Research Foundation had the idea to improve upon the preparation for open-heart surgery by using 3D printing technology to give the physicians at TCAI access to anatomically-accurate representations of their patients’ hearts.
“Dr. Horton and I, and Dr. Beaman, came together on this project to figure out a way to make additive manufactured models of the heart, from direct CT scans.” Dr. Devaraj explains.
However, without the budget, capacity or expertise needed to own and operate an additive manufacturing system, Dr. Devaraj and TCAI turned to Stratasys Direct Manufacturing to print models of patients’ hearts on demand, with extreme precision and rapid turnaround. They also knew that with Stratasys Direct Manufacturing the files would be handled safely and securely.
As Dr. Devaraj explains, the CAD files used to create the models are taken directly from the patient’s CT scans, so the printed heart model is an extremely accurate representation of the patient’s own anatomy. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing then optimizes the CAD file for 3D printing and uses Stereolithography (SL) technology to build the models. SL uses UV lasers to cure liquid resins layer by layer and is among the most precise 3D printing technologies. The clear resins available in SL also make it an ideal process for the project, with the transparent material giving doctors and patients a chance to see intricate internal valve structures and better prepare for the procedure.
“It was suddenly a way to look at the internal organs without having to open someone up. And frankly, even if you open someone up, it’s not the same; it doesn’t look the same. […] Having this type of 3-dimensional mapping and printing of an actual heart of that particular patient is invaluable in speeding up and improving safety and efficacy of the procedure,” explains Dr. Rodney Horton, M.D., F.A.C.C., cardiac arrhythmia specialist, who worked alongside Dr. Devaraj to bring his idea to life.
Stratasys Direct Manufacturing works directly with TCAI on an ongoing basis in order to produce the printed hearts from CT scans. The hearts can be printed and delivered to the physicians in a matter of hours, enabling the physicians to study the models before performing open-heart surgery on a patient.
As Dr. Horton puts it, “If a surgeon needs to repair something, they have this in their hand before they open up the chest. So it’s enormously valuable from that standpoint.”
The ability to produce unique patient models is just one way additive manufacturing has shifted the health care industry away from a one-size-fits-all approach to more customized solutions for improving outcomes. Freed from the design and capital constraints of traditional manufacturing—and with further advancements in additive materials and processes—doctors and medical institutions will continue finding new ways to provide better care for all of us.