Eirini Ieremia June 13, 2016

In an effort to eliminate the risks for patients related to cardiovascular procedures, researchers from Duke University in North Carolina have joined the accuracy of 3D Printing technology with the power of a supercomputer. They created and tested a high-quality and realistic simulation of the human body’s blood flow.

Cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease, stroke, and aortic disease affect the lives of millions of people worldwide. Clinicians treating these patients face many challenges. Each treatment option comes with its risks. Even well established procedures such as coronary stenting can still cause challenges in some patients. Despite years of experience of many clinicians, it may still be hard to predict the outcome and potential side effects of a new treatment methods.

3D Printing and blood flow stimulation
3D Printing and Blood Flow Stimulation - Randlers Lab, Duke University

Creating Patient-Friendly Procedures

With that in mind, the research team at Duke University was driven by the need to create safer, more patient-friendly and, most of all, effective procedures for patients with cardiovascular diseases. Led by Amanda Randles, the team created a 3D model that represents all arteries greater than 1mm at a resolution of 9 microns.

To collect all the 3D data needed for the model, the research team used MRI and CT scans of a test subject’s entire body. The team had to deal with huge amounts of data. This meant that, to replicate the blood flow with extreme accuracy, they had to use a powerful supercomputer and high-quality image processing software.

Testing the Model's Accuracy with a 3D-Printed Aorta

Testing the virtual model’s accuracy was the next step. The team joined forces with David Frakes, engineer and 3D Printing expert from Arizona State University. Together, they created a 3D-printed model of an aorta, using the same scans that helped create the model. They were able to pump fluid inside the 3D-printed aorta model and measured the flow, tracking visible particles.

Medical 3D Printing
3D-printed replica of the aorta - Randlers Lab, Duke University
Users can change the geometry of the vascular model to represent their patient’s vasculature. This allows medical professionals to explore different treatment options for specific patients.
The simulated blood flow (right) and the physical flow measurements (left) -Randles Lab/Harvey Lab
The simulated blood flow (right) and the physical flow measurements (left) - Randles Lab/Harvey Lab

Seems like such an accurate representation of the way a patient’s blood flows can reduce significantly the risks of cardiovascular procedures. It can help medical professionals better predict the possible side effects of different treatments options in a specific patient. This can guide them in selecting the most adequate procedure for each patient.

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