3-D heart models used to improve surgery planning

With the aid of a 3-D printer, researchers in Phoenix are building custom heart models for surgery planning to reduce the likelihood of complications.

The work is a collaboration between biomedical engineering researchers at Arizona State University and physicians at Phoenix Children's Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, according to an announcement.

The models are based on information gleaned from CT and MRI scans. The printer produces ultra-thin two-dimensional slices of the images, which then are compiled about 600 layers thick using adhesive. Justin Ryan, a biomedical engineering doctoral student, compared it to a building being constructed one brick at a time. Various parts of the heart model are sprayed with ink to show specific anatomical features.

The models give surgeons a quick, accurate and intuitive understanding of a patient's condition.

"This knowledge means patients can spend a lot less time in surgery and under anesthesia, which could greatly reduce the risks of these invasive procedures," ASU team leader David Frakes, an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering said in the announcement. Frakes also wants to develop the models as educational tools.

What's more, the team is exploring the use of 3-D heart modeling and 3-D printing for improving artificial heart implantation.

Researchers and physicians are finding myriad uses for 3-D technology. Johns Hopkins Hospital has touted a 3-D navigational imaging system for neurosurgeons at its new facility, technology designed to improve the precision and safety of many procedures.

French surgeons, meanwhile, say a 3-D model built from previous CT scans helped them avoid damaging a nerve that ran along an abnormal path in a patient's neck as they removed a tumor.

Additionally, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School have built 3-D maps of the lung, using a CT scan technique called parametric response mapping to allow physicians to better distinguish early-stage damage to the small airways from more severe conditions, such as emphysema.

To learn more:
- read the announcement