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3D-printed heart saves baby's life

Doctors have saved the life of a newborn baby with the aid of a 3D printed model that helped them plan his heart surgery.


The life of a baby boy, born in July with a congenital heart defect, was saved when his surgeons made use of a 3D-printed heart. Not, however, an organ 3D printed from tissue, but a model of the heart that allowed a team of surgeons at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian to practise before the main event.


The baby's heart disease was unusually complicated. Both the aorta and pulmonary arteries rose from the right ventricle, and there was a large hole in his heart -- and a CT scan was not sufficient to help the doctors figure out a surgical plan, since the baby's heart was about the size of a walnut.

With the help of the CT scans and funding from Matthew's Hearts of Hope, the team ordered a model heart from Cardiovascular Business Development Manager Todd Pietila at Materialise. Using Materialise's Mimics Innovation software, Pietila created a 3D model of the heart, which captured the heart's structure and defects in accurate detail.

Two days later, the team had a model of the heart 3D printed out of a flexible material that could be cut into and manipulated, allowing them to make a plan to repair all of the heart's defects in just a single surgery, instead of three or four -- and, at just one week old, the baby's operation was a success, setting the baby on the path to a long and happy life.

"The baby's heart had holes, which are not uncommon with CHD, but the heart chambers were also in an unusual formation, rather like a maze," said Dr Emile Bacha, a congenital heart surgeon and Director of Congenital and Pediatric Cardiac Surgery. "In the past, we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique [using a 3D printed model], it was like we had a road map to guide us."

The model, Materialise said, was so successful that the company and the hospital are already working together on additional cases.

"After the success of this surgery, it's hard to imagine entering an operating room for another complex case without the aid of a 3D printed model," Dr Bacha said. "It's definitely going to be standard of care in the future and we're happy to be leading the way."