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Leading Edge

How 3-D Printers are Helping Surgeons

We’ve heard of 3-D printers creating replicas of car parts, mini selfies, even wedding cake toppers. But replicas of human organs? That sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi thriller — only it’s not. 3-D printing is taking medicine to a completely different level and some researchers call it one of the "most exciting technologies today."

What can medical professionals do with 3D printing? Many things — from creating a replica of a tooth you lost to an exact replica of a hip joint.

DrFerozeMahmood3-D printers have been around since the 1980s, but recently the technology has become so sophisticated that its medical uses are tremendous.

At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Feroze Mahmood (right), Director of Vascular Anesthesia and Perioperative Echocardiography; Dr. Kamal Khabbaz, Chief of Cardiac Surgery; and Dr. David Leeman, an interventional cardiologist, are investigating the possibilities of 3-D printing in mitral valve surgery. The team also includes Drs. Robina Matyal, Syed Muhammad Khurram Owais, and Mario Montealegre-Gallegos.

LeadingEdgeValveModel“The cardiac surgical program at BIDMC holds an international reputation in mitral valve repair surgery," says Dr. Mahmood. "And we are also considered a national leader in our perioperative echocardiography service. Over the years, we have routinely used 3-D echocardiography imaging during cardiac surgery to assist surgeons in making more precise and objective decisions.

"With 3-D imaging, the heart valves can be visualized as they actually function in the beating heart. Hence
3-D imaging provides cardiac surgeons with unparalleled visual access into the structure and function before surgical access," Dr. Mahmood adds. "Our program was one of the earliest to routinely use 3-D imaging during cardiac surgery. Considering our history of innovations, moving from 3-D imaging to printing was a natural path of progression. We started investigating the use of 3-D printing late last year.”

3-D printing of replicas of human body parts is not a new technology. However, with the availability of state-of-the-art equipment, it is now possible to generate high-resolution ECG data for
3-D printing. A replica of the patient’s intra-cardiac valve can be printed within 30 minutes of acquiring echocardiographic data. While initial efforts generated rough models, advancements in technology has allowed for vast improvements in the quality of 3-D printed valves, and even minute anatomical details can be replicated.

“These 3-D valve replicas are extremely helpful to surgeons in repair planning decisions," says Dr. Mahmood. "Instead of visualizing the valve on a flat screen, surgeons and students can now hold a tangible 3-D model of the patient’s valve. They can directly observe the extent of damage, practice repair techniques, plan the surgery, and make decisions before actual surgery.”DrKamalKhabbaz

“3-D printing has now become a very simple and
cost-effective technique," adds Dr. Khabbaz (right). "And the replicas are life-like, high quality anatomical kits which help improve trainee surgeons’ and other health professionals' knowledge. It may even lead to new surgical treatments. This is what we are investigating at BIDMC.”

So, what is the future of 3-D printing? 

“Eventually we may be printing 3-D heart valves that can be hemodynamically tested, and we could design and print patient-specific annuloplasty rings to be used during valve repair surgery," Dr. Mahmood says. "In fact, we may be able print replacement parts for damaged organs. Most often, the heart valve can be repaired. In cases where it cannot, we may have the ability to create a prosthetic heart valve to replace the damaged one."

With 3-D printing, the possibilities seem endless.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

October 2014

Contact Information

Cardiac Surgery
Division of the CardioVascular Institute
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Lowry Medical Office Building, 2A
110 Francis Street
Boston, MA 02215