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3D Printers Help Heart Surgeons
3D printers are slowly entering everyday life and they are increasingly being used in medicine. Doctors at Washington's Children's National Medical Center say the life-size tri-dimensional prints of their patients' hearts helps them in planning and executing surgeries. Magnetic resonance imaging, computer tomography and ultrasound already give pretty good images of patients' internal organs, but doctors at the Children's National Medical Center say nothing beats holding a life-size model of a heart in your hand prior to the surgery. They can study it, plan the procedure and even practice the access to the damaged area. Pediatric cardiologist Laura Olivieri says many of their young patients were born with hearts that did not form as they should have, but surgeons can correct that. "Seeing the heart defect in three dimensions can really help the interventionist or the surgeon plan the best procedure," she said. The hospital acquired the $250,000 printer about 18 months ago and the team is still expanding and finding new areas to print. The procedure always starts with taking a set of three-dimensional images with magnetic resonance imager, computer tomography scanner and ultrasound machine. Highly trained pediatric cardiologists manipulate those images and separate the organ from the noise in the picture. In order to save time in printing they sometimes also cut away parts of the image irrelevant to the planned procedure.