The same technology NASA uses on the International Space Station has now helped a milestone of 40 heart patients at Henry Ford Hospital, many who otherwise had little hope of survival.
The technology – 3D printing – has been around since the 1980s and is used mostly for industrial manufacturing, and research and development technology.
3D printing made global news in 2014 when the crew of the International Space Station needed a specific wrench to repair a problem and did not have one onboard.
Technicians on the ground transmitted digital plans for the socket-and-ratchet wrench to the orbiting lab, where the crew used an onboard 3D printer to produce the tool and make the repair.
Now 3D printing is at the center of a creative boom.
How 3D Printing Works
Physicians at Henry Ford Hospital are using this technology to create exact replicas of individual human hearts – bringing personalized medicine to the forefront of patient-centered care.
Never before could a physician examine an exact replica of a patient’s body part with their hands outside of a patient’s body without ever making a cut or incision.
More powerful than just visualizing a picture on a monitor, 3D printing enables physicians with the ability to anticipate how the patient’s anatomy will react to different types of equipment movement during the procedure. This helps reduce procedure and recovery time, and hospital stays.
Instead of ink to print text or images, 3D printers lay down layer upon layer of plastic or similar materials to build a tangible, physical model.
Its Use for Heart Valves
Because everyone’s heart and heart valves are unique, prosthetic valves may fit imperfectly, leak or interfere with other heart structures.
By creating a 3D replica of the patient’s malfunctioning heart, structural interventional cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons can determine optimal positioning for the planned transcatheter valve in the replica of the patient’s heart. It also allows the team to make or anticipate adjustments to their case – days before the patient is scheduled to be in the operating room.
This innovative process has already improved patient outcomes and saved lives.
3D Printing for High Risk Procedures
3D printing also can be used in predicting which patients would be the best candidates for these high-risk procedures. Recently, a patient referred for consideration for transcatheter mitral valve replacement underwent 3D printing of her heart and failing prosthetic valve. (For transcatheter mitral valve replacement, cardiologists use a balloon-tipped catheter, typically threaded to the heart through a vein in the leg, to replace the mitral valve.)
Upon review of the 3D model, Dr. O’Neill and Henry Ford Hospital’s Structural Heart team were able to determine that the patient would not be a candidate for this highly complex procedure; if they put a new valve inside her old valve it would obstruct the outflow of blood to the heart and she would die.
One Patient’s Story
Recently, an elderly gentleman with an abnormality in his heart known as atrial fibrillation underwent 3D printing evaluation of his left atrial appendage anatomy.
He had prior stomach bleeding episodes and could not tolerate blood thinning medications because of his high risk of bleeding. Unfortunately, without blood thinning medication, and due to his underlying condition of atrial fibrillation, he suffered mini-strokes.
He sought Dr. O’Neill’s structural heart team for implantation of an occluder device into his left atrial appendage, which is designed to prevent further episodes of blood clots and strokes.
Typically, this procedure would take at least 90 minutes to be completed in a high-volume experienced medical center. With the aid of a 3D printed replica of this patient’s heart, Dr. O’Neill was able to implant the device in 20 minutes. The patient was in recovery within an hour, sitting up in a chair in the afternoon, and discharged home the next day.
3D printing has utility in not only finding out who is a good candidate for highly complex procedures, but also in making these procedures more efficient, safer, enabling faster patient recovery, less pain, and quicker discharge to home.