At the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, the cardiovascular surgery division led by Dr. Glen Van Arsdell is using 3D-printed models to train new surgeons before they perform complex pediatric surgery. This solution resolves a dire need for proper training and practice, which is often limited to practicing on organ donations or animals.
3D Printing is the perfect technique to create hyperrealistic training replicas of complex or rare congenital pathologies, such as a double outlet right ventricle or the tetralogy of fallot, and practice surgery without the risk of losing an actual patient. The opportunity to use 3D Printing technology in hospitals creates a valuable learning opportunity for new surgeons. “This is just a much more rapid way of expanding your circle of competence,” Dr. Van Arsdell said.
Apart from regular training, 3D-printed models can also be used in trial runs before an actual surgery. “I can hold the models in my hands and almost instantaneously tell what operation I am going to need to do”, said Dr. Van Arsdell.
Cardiac radiologist Dr. Shi-Joon Yoo scans real infant hearts and, using dedicated software, converts these images into extremely lifelike, soft, 3D-printed models which can be cut, sewn and operated on.
“My surgeon says it’s a little more difficult than he can do on the real patient,” Dr. Yoo said. “The limitations of medical imaging now is that the highest resolution is 0.7mm, but the 3D printer we use is at 0.3mm resolution. So we have no limitation in representing what is seen in medical imaging in the 3D prints.”
Where will this lead in the future? Dr. Yoo dreams about a future where live cells can be printed around a degradable scaffold, eventually resulting in a real human heart. One thing is certain: Medical 3D Printing is evolving at a rapid pace and will increasingly facilitate complex procedures in the near future.