Liesbeth Kemel October 21, 2016

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust has been increasingly implementing 3D Printing in its hospital services. The latest addition to their offer has been the ability to 3D print heart models based on Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (CMR) scans from their patients. And most innovatively of all, the Trust has developed a way of 3D Printing heart models that also show signs of scarring.

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Heart scarring can occur as a consequence of heart disease or surgery, and can cause arrhythmia, an occasionally life-threatening condition where the heart suffers from an irregular heartbeat. Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan, honorary consultant cardiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital, British Heart Foundation-funded clinical senior lecturer at Imperial College, believes that 3D Printing will provide the key to studying and researching the effects of cardiac scarring. 3D-printed heart models add value to conventional research, because they give the surgical team a much more detailed view of the anatomy (as opposed to 2D images), as well as giving trainees a model to practice procedures on.

The research will aim to discover which causes of scarring lead to different kinds of arrhythmia, and the knowledge afforded by the 3D-printed heart models will lead to the improved healthcare of patients with arrhythmia. For example, surgeons will be able to better predict if their patient needs a precautionary defibrillator, and reduce the need for open-heart surgery and cardiac catheterizations.

Patient Jonathan Havre experienced the power of 3D Printing firsthand. He had undergone surgery to repair his Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart disease where the heart is affected by four structural defects. With the 3D Printing program at the Royal Brompton Hospital, his surgeons were able to work together with Materialise clinical engineers to reconstruct a digital 3D model from the CMR scans of his heart. The geometry of the heart was recreated in one imaging file, and another imaging set was used for the scar tissue to visualize it better. Finally, a 3D heart model was printed out and sent to the hospital, where his doctors could accurately assess the risk his postoperative heart scars had of causing arrhythmia. Jonathan was able to understand exactly what was going on with the help of his heart model.

  Dr. Babu-Narayan sees a bright future for the program, saying

“Across the world techniques are continually evolving, we are barely scratching the surface of the potential clinical uses for 3D imaging and printing. There is also interactive 3D technology that combines the tactile advantages of a printed model with the immense detail offered by the digital image.”

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Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan and patient Jonathan Havre holding the 3D-printed model of his heart. ©Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust

The 3D Printing program at Royal Brompton and Harefield runs on donations. If you want to participate in keeping their fantastic initiative alive, feel free to donate your contributions here.

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