Surgeons at a New York hospital have credited 3D printing with helping to save the life of a two-week-old baby who required complicated heart surgery.
Using MRI scan data, surgeons at New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital were able to 3D print a replica of the child’s heart, which was riddled with holes and structural abnormalities. Cognizant of the fact that surgery was going to be both complicated and dangerous, the 3D-printed heart provided the team of surgeons with an opportunity to better analyze the organ, and develop a detailed approach to the surgical procedure. The doctors were then able to rehearse extremely intricate surgeries on the tiny heart model, which is less than a third of the size of an adult hand.
“The baby’s heart had holes, which are not uncommon with CHD, but the heart chambers were also in an unusual formation, rather like a maze,” Dr. Emile Bacha, who performed the surgery told media. “In the past we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique, it was like we had a road map to guide us. We were able to repair the baby’s heart with one operation.”
The project was funded by Connecticut-based Matthew’s Hearts of Hope, a nonprofit organization aspiring to raise awareness around Congenital Heart Defects.
This is yet another example of the integral role the Maker Movement is continuing to play throughout the medical space. Just the other day, Kentucky surgeon Erle Austin attributed 3D printing with significantly increasing the likelihood of succeeding in the most difficult surgeries.
Similar to the team at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Austin had turned to 3D printing to inform his approach to heart surgery on a young child at Kosair Children’s Hospital.
“If I went in and did surgery, took off the front of the heart and did irreparable damage, the child would not survive.” Using an experimental version of the Atmel AVR powered Makerbot Replicator 2, Austin printed a copy of the heart in three parts: the front, the center and the back.
“It’s a relatively inexpensive printer costing $2,500 (£1,500),” Austin told Wired, when asked about the experimental version of the Makerbot Replicator 2. “We did it in three different parts […] and it’s really the middle that counts. Because I have an identical reconstruction I can take off the front of the heart and see inside of it and make a plan as to how I’m going to direct the flow of blood and move the [obstruction in the heart].
Ranging from splints to prosthetics, there are a large number of real-life success stories of implementing 3D printing to enhance complex medical procedures, while also improving the lives of those suffering from disabilities. In the future, Austin suggested, these techniques will prove to helpful in the training of surgeons, as well as aiding the communication between cardiologists and surgeons.
According to Cambridge-based market research firm IDTechEx, the medical and dental 3D printing industry will grow to be worth $867 million globally by 2025. And, while the United States is still pioneering this high-tech biomedical research, the National Health Service (NHS) is exploring the wide-range of uses of 3D printers in modern medicine.
Back in September, researchers at Nottingham Trent University even used 3D printing to produce a prosthetic human heart which was said to be “as close as you can get” to the real thing.
In time, we can surely expect to see a growing number of scientists, researchers and medical professionals explore the unlimited possibilities — a majority of which are powered by AVR XMEGA, megaAVR and SAM3X8E MCUs — have to offer. That’s what we call making a difference!