Printing 3D hearts you can operate on

March 10, 2022

Jump_Blog_Printing 3D hearts you can operate on1.jpgWe’ve mastered the art of 3D printing various types of anatomy. We’ve developed an automated segmentation process to view complex heart and cancer cases in virtual and augmented reality. And now we’ve demonstrated the ability to create a 3D model of a heart that is so realistic, a surgeon could use it to practice an operation.

This has been an ongoing dream for our OSF Innovation Advanced Imaging and Modeling Lab for years. However, existing 3D printing technologies fail to closely replicate heart tissue. As a result, we worked together to invent a new way to produce a silicone-based 3D heart. Using an injection molding technique, we were able to develop a physical heart that included a ventricular septal defect (hole) between the main two chambers.

This is the closest we’ve come to producing a realistic heart a surgeon can operate on. This work is being featured in the scientific video publication called the Journal of Online Video Experiments (JoVE) where the team gives step-by-step instructions on how to re-create the heart. There is still more work to do to perfect this technique, but we’re excited about the possibilities.

Why does this matter?

Hands holding model of heartThe 3D prints we typically develop are very detailed. They can represent the blood pooled inside the heart or the actual muscle. In VR imaging, we can produce every detail of the heart that can be manipulated in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t provide the haptic feedback a user may want to feel their way through a piece of anatomy.

The proof of concept heart model we created is a big step toward a more faithful representation of the anatomy a surgeon can touch and practice on. Let’s say there is a once in a lifetime surgery taking place overseas that a number of clinicians want to see or participate in. With our discovery, we could share our process of creating these heart models with surgeons around the world so they could produce their own models to perform on.

The main benefit would be for young surgeons to practice procedures they may not get to see very often. We could build a library of complex, patient-specific models for novice doctors to use whenever they want, or to prepare for an operation they may do with an expert. This work could also disrupt the need to use cadavers or animals for medical students at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria.

What we’ve done is prove that there is value in printing realistic, physical anatomy models.
They each cost less than $10 in materials to build
and are more realistic than anything we’ve ever seen.

However, we also identified some pain points to consider. It takes time and effort to create this type of model and there are a lack of printers with the ability to produce models using silicone-based materials. Right now, we are working on making our silicone substance even more lifelike.

The mindset of OSF Innovation

The work we put into this effort speaks to the mindset of OSF Innovation that if it doesn’t exist, we’ll invent it. And once we invent it, we want to share it with the world.

More importantly, we've placed a new printing technique into the toolbox of OSF Innovation. So when the next physician comes asking for a complex print like this, we are ready. We have this know-how that could potentially translate into new uses.

Sister M. Pieta Keller, Tate Ralph & Matthew Bramlet, MD

Megan Mattus, a former Jump simulation engineer, is an author on the JoVE article and a contributor to this blog.

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