3-D printing technology assists heart surgeons

Recent advances mean that it is now possible to transfer information from an MRI scan into a plastic heart model, which surgeons can use to plan the work they are going to perform.3D Heart

A 3-D printer, based at St Thomas’ Hospital, allows researchers and clinicians to produce custom 3-D heart models for use in research and surgical procedures.

Researchers at King’s College London pioneered a groundbreaking technique whereby a 3-D printer working from scans creates a physical replica of a patient’s organ. Surgeons can then use the plastic replica to see, measure and hold the organ in all its detail, and tailor the surgery before they operate. This is particularly useful for operating on small children, whose organs are very small.

Two-year old Mina was one of the first patients in the UK to benefit from this new technique. From birth, her heart was so deformed by a large hole between the two chambers, it was thought it could not be repaired. However, by using an exact replica of the heart printed off in plastic, doctors treating her at Evelina London Children’s Hospital were able to see the exact size and position of the hole in the wall between two of her heart chambers, and to design a patch for it.

The technique was pioneered at King’s College London by Dr Gerald Greil, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at Evelina London Children’s Hospital who specialises in creating high resolution 3-D images of the heart using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In Mina's case, Dr Greil and colleagues within the Division of Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Engineering at King’s used computer software to stitch together more than 120 images of the heart, creating a 3D image that could be viewed on a scan from any angle. Turning this image into a replica was the next step.

Professor Reza Razavi, Leader of the Imaging Clinical Academic Group and Director of Research at King’s Health Partners, said:

We have been using 3D models for research and teaching for a while but using it clinically is a first for us. It is a great example of how pioneering research can be translated into patient benefit within King’s Health Partners.