Of all the vital areas where 3D printing technology has had an effect, the medical industry has probably shown the most positive and immediate return. Doctors from around the world are increasingly utilizing patient-specific 3D printed models to help with complex surgical preparation, which has led to faster and more effective medical operations. This particularly rings true for what may be considered the human body’s most important organ, the heart. From Toronto to Melbourne, cardiologists and surgeons worldwide have found 3D printed models of hearts and arteries to be the optimal preparation tool. Even at my alma mater, the University of Central Florida, Professor Dr. Dinender Singla has been working valiantly to make these 3D printed heart models more accessible to all.
There have been many instances where 3D printed heart models have been used to prepare for complex and critical surgical procedures, but none quite like what has recently taken place at the Hong Kong-based Queen Elizabeth Hospital. On June 27, an eight-person medical team used 3D printing technology to create a detailed heart model of their 77-year-old patient known by her surname, Shum. The medical specialists weren’t preparing for just any ordinary heart surgery; in fact, they planned to conduct the world’s first-ever surgery that involved the replacing of two heart valves through blood vessels in a single operation.
Considering the age and condition of their patient, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital team aimed to perform a surgery with minimal invasiveness, and were able to do so thanks to 3D printing technology. The patient-specific model enabled the medical team to optimize their planning and practice, which helped them to complete the procedure in just four hours. The specialists agreed that the best surgical method for Shum would be through her blood vessels, which only requires a small incision on the body for them to access the targeted area.
The patient, who has undergone three open heart surgeries since 1973, had two damaged heart valves, the mitral valve on the left side and the tricuspid valve on the right, leaving Shum at high risk of heart failure. So, the medical specialists decided that another open heart surgery would be precarious, and instead opted to insert a new artificial valve through a minimally invasive opening in a main vein on her upper thigh. The valve was constructed from the heart tissue of a cow placed upon a metal wire, which guided the valve from her thigh all the way up to her heart.
While the surgeons were in the midst of placing the replacement valve, they noticed that her aortic valve was much narrower than expected, and so they decided to replace this valve with one made of a pig’s heart tissue in the very same operation. Nonetheless, their preparation on the 3D printed heart model ensured that the procedure was smooth and successful. Since the surgery was minimal in invasiveness, Shum was able to sit up and walk around just one day after her operation, and checked out of the hospital just a week later.
The impressive success of the procedure has helped the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s structural heart disease division obtain extra funding from the Hospital Authority, which has enabled them to expand their staff. With this, the team hopes to continue enhancing their ability to perform more minimally invasive heart surgeries, which 3D printing technology will almost surely play a major role in.
[Source: South China Morning Post]