3D Printers Provide a Window into the Heart
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Performing a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) on a patient with congenital heart disease can force an interventional cardiologist to navigate uncharted anatomic territory. When the patient’s anatomy is complex, procedures such as placing a new heart valve can take longer and are associated with a higher risk for various complications.
However, some cardiologists are turning to a new tool to help them prepare for such complex procedures—three-dimensional (3D) printers, which can use computed tomography scans to generate a model of the patient’s precise anatomy to prepare for the surgery.
“The 3D printing allows us to have a 3D model that can be held in hand and shown to the interventional cardiologists and surgeons doing the procedure,” said Ron Blankstein, MD, codirector of the Cardiovascular Imaging Training program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Associate Professor of Medicine and Radiology at Harvard Medical School. “It is particularly useful in cases where the anatomy is not straightforward.”
These 3D printers are becoming a fixture at many academic centers, where the printers and expert staff are often hired to help convert imaging into 3D models that can be used by surgeons and interventional cardiologists preparing for many types of surgeries and procedures. In addition to clinical applications, the technology is also being applied in basic research where scientists use it to print living cells into complex 3D structures called organoids, which re-create many features …