3D Printing for Heart Surgery

If anyone still had any misgivings about the social benefits of the applications of 3D printing technology, a quick look at the latest work of a German surgeon, Dr. Bernhard Dorweiler, should easily lay those doubts to rest.

Dr. Dorweiler heads the Department of Vascular Surgery at the University of Mainz in the west of the country, where he has pioneered an extremely promising new use for the technology. In particularly delicate surgeries, it is extremely useful for doctors and students to have the chance to go through practice runs before applying their skills in a real surgical operation. In order to facilitate this, Dr. Dorweiler has introduced the use of 3D printed models, which can be practiced upon as practitioners hone their skills. The aim is to provide a better understanding of specific conditions, in order to give surgeons the best chance to save lives when in theater.

The latest example of the application’s success came when a fifty-three year-old patient presented herself to the doctor with a particularly extreme case of aortic arch aneurysm, which numerous other hospitals had been unable to treat. After creating and practicing with a 3D model of the patient’s heart, Dr. Dorweiler’s team was able to successfully operate, greatly reducing the risk of potentially deadly ruptures from occurring again inside the patient’s body.

According to Dorweiler, the benefits of using such 3D models should not be underestimated:

On average, CT scans with 1000-2000 images can be made per vascular-related patient case, which the surgeons use to analyze and diagnose the illness. This can be ambiguous and time-consuming when the issue is complex,” he said.

In this particular case, the aneurysm had resulted in a reciprocal bulge of a vessel in her neck, which could have burst at any time, with lethal consequences. As the vessel was located so close to the heart, the hospitals initially visited by the patient determined that operating presented too grave a risk. Dr. Dorwelier, recognizing the extremely high level of accuracy and care with which the condition needed to be treated, decided to create the 3D model needed for practice runs of the surgery required:

Looking through the CT Scans, it was impossible to clearly visualize the anatomy, so we decided to 3D print a model, and it was then for the first time that it became clear what the origin and magnitude of the problem was. Not only did we use the model to explain our findings to the patient to increase her compliance for the planned 3-step operation, but we even took it into each of the three surgeries as a point of reference during operation, which was crucial to the successful outcome,” stated the doctor.

The potential of 3D printing technology to save lives is not going unnoticed within the industry, as a number of startups have been launched with medical and surgical applications in mind. Dr. Dorweiler estimates that such innovations could save up to 40% of the time currently taken by surgeons, thus giving patients an increased chance of survival and successful recovery.

Andrew Maxwell

Andrew is a former journalist who now works as a freelance writer specializing in tech and gadgets. He currently resides in Thailand.

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