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Surgeons in Nova Scotia Use 3D Printed Heart Model to Rehearse Complex Procedures

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After the introduction by Ottawa Hospital of an integrated 3D printing facility Canadian health facilities continue to adopt 3D printing. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a collaboration between pediatric cardiologist Dr. Robert Chen and cardiac radiologist Dr. Deborah Thompson has resulted in the first 3D printed heart model of congenital heart disease (CHD) from IWK radiology images.  The model allows cardiac surgeons to rehearse surgical management of complex anatomy before entering the operating room.

“Congenital Heart Defects can be incredibly challenging to communicate,” says Dr. Thompson. “The 3D model takes the flat image and makes it real. You can hold it in your hands and have a better comprehension of the anatomy.  Good understanding of the problem leads to better care.” 

CHD is the world’s leading birth defect and about one in 80 to 100 Canadian children are born with it. Up until now diagnosis and management of CHD has relied on the review of flat, two-dimensional images acquired from echocardiography, cardiac magnetic resonance, and cardiac computed tomography.  Significant advances in 3D printing technology have made it possible to create lifelike, printed models of any part of the human anatomy, including congenital heart defects. These printed models help communicate the size, location, and degree of the defect and aid in planning surgical procedures. 

“The use of 3D models has the potential to decrease operative procedure times, decrease radiation exposure, and the overall sedation and anesthetic requirement,” says Dr. Chen. 

Models of structural congenital heart disease in children will not only allow surgeons to rehearse complex procedures but can also be used to train cardiac surgeons and residents to perform procedures, and teach structural heart disease to medical personnel, ancillary staff and families. The models will also form an institutional archive of cardiac anatomy. 

Modeling of anatomic structures can benefit neurosurgery, orthopedics, and plastic surgery, where mass customization through 3D printing also has potential for creating custom prostheses. The use of a 3D printed heart model for surgical preparation is now a rather consolidated practice in a number of procedures. In some hospitals they are even required for the most complex cardiac operations. Here is a collection of popular 3D printed heart models from previous success cases and experiments.

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