3D Systems revealed this week that it has been working closely with nonprofit organization OpHeart over the past four years to provide 3D printed tools and devices to pediatric heart surgeons to help with surgical preparation. OpHeart is a U.S.-based organization dedicated to improving treatments for children born with life-threatening heart defects.
Every year in the U.S., surgeons perform tens of thousands of surgeries to treat children born with congenital heart defects (CHDs), many of which have life-saving potential. OpHeart was founded with the goal of supporting these surgeries through various means. 3D Systems partnered with the nonprofit to offer its own expertise in medical 3D printing and specifically to provide patient-specific anatomical heart models to surgeons to help them prepare for operations. The 3D printed heart models have also proven very useful to doctors in explaining surgical procedures to the families of children born with CHDs.
Katie Weimar, VP of Medical devices at 3D Systems, explained the significance of the 3D printed models: “Feedback from the surgeons we’ve worked with through OpHeart is that our anatomical models are tremendously helpful to them in delivering successful patient outcomes. We are proud to help OpHeart deliver on its mission. We are also grateful for the opportunity to communicate the benefit of 3D printed surgical models. The models we create for OpHeart clearly demonstrate the power of 3D printing.”
OpHeart was founded in 2015 by Anne Garcia after her own daughter was born with a life-threatening heart defect. Over the years, 3D Systems has worked closely with OpHeart’s founder and has participated in the organization’s Heart-In-Hand Pledge. Through this pledge, doctors or parents can request a model of their patient’s heart without having to worry about cost.
When 3D Systems receives the request, they utilize 2D imaging data obtained from the hospital to create a 3D digital model. This process involves 3D Systems’ biomedical engineers converting MRI or CT scan data into a 3D model using the D2P modular software package, which uses automatic segmentation tools to streamline the modeling process.
From there, the digital model is 3D printed using the company’s ProJet CJP 660Pro 3D ColorJet printer and its VisiJet materials. When the full-colour model is complete, it is promptly shipped to the surgeon, who can then plan the patient’s surgery more carefully.
“We fiercely believe that the ability to 3D print a replica of a CHD patient’s heart is an invaluable tool that can, to put it bluntly, save lives,” commented Garcia. “By giving surgeons the ability to practice and plan for complex surgeries that involve reconnecting vessels as thin as human hairs in hearts no larger than a strawberry, it only stands to reason that the quality of surgery improves. We want every child with a life-threatening heart defect to benefit from this technology.”
Dr. Jorge Salazar, the chief of pediatric and congenital heart surgery at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Houston, expressed gratitude for the availability of the 3D printed heart models. Dr. Salazar is notable in his field for having redefined success rates for CHD cases previously considered inoperable. The established surgeon is behind the Texas One-Step, a surgical procedure that consolidated what used to be multiple surgeries into a single operation.
“From a surgeon’s perspective, the incorporation of 3D printing into our craft is enabling tremendous breakthroughs,” said the surgeon, who is also on the OpHeart Board of Directors. “The full colour 3D printed models provided by 3D Systems have enabled us to achieve outcomes previously considered unobtainable. Their expertise and technology are helping us advance treatment and improve patient outcomes.”
Presently, the Heart-In-Hand pledge is a crucial part of the 3D Systems OpHeart collaboration, as there is still no established insurance reimbursement for 3D printed surgical guides. Down the line, however, the nonprofit and 3D printing company hope that by showing the benefits of the 3D printed anatomical models insurance companies will come to realize their value and offer reimbursements.