When it came to “3d printed heart”, most of us will doubt if it’s a real heart that can functionally work in human body. It maybe come true in the future, but so far there is still a way to go to overcome technical difficulties in printing a beating living heart and connecting it to vasculature with enough blood.
So what the “3d printed heart” already applied to clinical practice refers to?
Let me give an example. Just in this year, a nine-month baby was in danger because of five holes in her heart. Doctors decided to do the heart defect surgery in traditional way, that is repairing the heart while keeping the breathing and oxygenation by extracorporeal circulation during cardiac arrest. Another accident occurred after the surgery, the baby had difficulty breathing once the artificial breathing was withdrawed. All characteristics indicated other problems in her heart. Check found that there were still twoventricular septal defect in her heart with deep holes and special location.
The fact that this little scarred heart cannot stand more invasive surgery worried Doctors and her parent. While one sophisticated doctor proposed the idea of 3d printed heart---scanning and printing her heart to confirm the position and size of holes, then repair the two holes only once using least occluder device. After negotiating, they printed a heart just accurately same as baby’s heart using the cheapest material.
A second operation started, but this time it was a minimally invasive surgery instead of an open-heart one. Minimally invasive surgery---piercing small tubes, diameter less than 1mm through the skin and into the abdomen were done at one go in 30 mins because of the advance 3d printing heart model. After 4 days, the baby could normally breathe without ventilator. Then she was transferred to general ward from ICU through 20 days health care and is getting better now.
Currently the 3d printing technologies is limited to copy a patient’s heart rather than a real heart, whereas it can help doctors with a clear observation of heart anatomy and a more precise and safer surgery plan.