Veterans with heart conditions will soon be able to hold a 3D model of their own heart while talking with their doctor about possible treatments, thanks to 3D printing.
VA Puget Sound Health Care System doctors, researchers and engineers are working with their counterparts at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine to use 3D printing to diagnose and treat complex heart conditions.
Hold your heart in your hands
"Imagine the power of holding a life-sized 3D model of your own heart in your hands while your cardiologist discusses your treatment plan and walks you through your upcoming procedure step by step. This is the reality that we want for all of our patients," said VA Puget Sound radiologist Dr. Beth Ripley.
3D models of aortic valve helps doctor plan surgery.
Currently, without a 3D model, a surgeon creates a plan for surgery by looking through hundreds or thousands of CT or MRI scans, putting together a rough picture of the actual organ from a series of flat images. To create a model, a radiologist uses those same images to make a 3D blueprint, which is then sent to a 3D printer. The result is an almost perfect copy of the patient's body part.
Reducing costs and shortening surgery times
Three-dimensional heart models will come in handy for a procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, in which the surgeon replaces a narrow heart valve that no longer opens properly.
"Beyond improving our understanding of a patient's anatomy, it allows us to know which catheters and replacement valves will fit, and how best to approach the particular structure," said UW research scientist Dmitry Levin. In turn, he said, that knowledge helps reduce the cost of devices and shorten the length of surgery.
VA Puget Sound doctors already print 3D kidney models that they use for planning kidney surgery. They also print 3D foot orthotics that prevent amputations for veterans with type 2 diabetes.
The VA-UW team expects the partnership to result in new techniques and treatment approaches. As a result, it could eventually help heart patients worldwide.
Ripley said the next frontier is 3D printing of living tissue. "In the near future, we will be able to make living bone," complete with blood vessels, she said.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.