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Scans, 3-D Printer Help Tiny Heart Patients

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Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, is using a high-end 3-D printer to turn CT and ultrasound images into models of individual patients’ hearts and other body parts.

Surgeons find the models especially helpful in difficult cases. Before surgery on one patient, pediatric cardiologist Laura Olivieri, MD, created a heart model made of pieces that she could take apart. She told the Washington Post, for a story published Tuesday, that it allowed her to “look at the anatomy in 3-D and do some practice runs where the patient isn’t involved.”

She elaborated:

The cardiac anatomy of this patient is very rare. And it’s not like there’s an FDA-designed device that will solve it.

Health care providers are just beginning to use such printers (as we reported last month). The technology is expensive; Children’s paid about $250,000 for its printer. Each printing job can take a few hours to as much as a full day, and preparing the images so the printer can read them can require at least as much time. “The first one I did was not even recognizable as a heart, and it probably took me like 25 hours to do,” Dr. Olivieri said.

Doctors say the time and effort is worth it. For a surgeon who needed to close a hole in an infant’s heart, Children’s created a model that mixed hard and soft plastics so it felt like a real heart—and even accepted sutures. Another medical team used a model of a dislocated spine, complete with softer, jellylike “discs” between the harder vertebrae, to help understand and repair that injury.

Looking at a scan on a computer screen just isn’t the same, Dr. Olivieri said. “Because you’ve got a three-dimensional problem. What we’re all trying to do is reconstruct how far away X and Y are. But now you can just take [the model] and hold it and look at it and say, ‘Oh, they’re that far away.'”

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One Response to “Scans, 3-D Printer Help Tiny Heart Patients”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » CT-Based Heart Model Helps Save Child’s Life on March 13th, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    […] of 3-D printing for a pediatric heart patient in Kentucky. The technology has been used elsewhere (as we reported last May) and seems to be fast becoming a common tool, particularly for pediatric […]