Stents, balloons, artificial valves. Today, there are more life-saving heart devices than ever, but a new discovery is taking cardiovascular innovations to the next level. Now, scientists have created a 3D heart that’s one-of-a-kind. 

Every year, half a million Americans will have some type of heart surgery.

Researchers at Stanford University are printing 3D models that are an exact replica of a patient’s heart.

“If you look at the complexity and the detail of what we have, it’s extraordinary,” Paul J. Wang, MD, Professor of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics, told Ivanhoe.

First, they take CT images and load them onto a computer. A software program converts the data into layers. The printer then creates the heart out of hot plastic.

“So, the printer is just printing layer by layer to build up a 3D solid,” Jeff Caves, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stanford University, told Ivanhoe.

The 3D heart could allow doctors to fit devices like catheters, stents, and valves to the exact dimensions of a patient’s heart. Surgeons could also test different options in advance , making procedures safer for patients.

“When you can actually put a device inside the heart and see how it behaves, that gives you another set of confidence that it’s likely to work in a human,” Dr. Wang said.

It’s an innovation that could change the game when it comes to heart care. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dr. Wang said.

Dr. Wang says there is other research going on using 3D printing, combined with living cells and other biological material. The goal is to one day print functioning human organs.

BACKGROUND: Heart surgeries are performed daily in the U.S. to help correct heart complications. Heart surgery may be performed on children and adults and can be life-saving to those who need replaced or repaired heart valves, repaired damaged heart structures, heart transplants, and implanted medical devices to support blood flow or control heartbeat. One of the most common performed heart surgeries is coronary artery bypass grafting. Cardiac procedures are evolving in such ways that procedures can be done with small incisions among the ribs rather than cutting through a patient’s breast bone. (Source: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hs/)

SYMPTOMS: After surgery you may experience one or more of these symptoms, but don’t worry, this is expected and will take time to go away. Symptoms include:

•       Fever or chills     •     Abdominal pain

•       Chest pain                       •     Increased heart rate

•       Red stool                         •     Numbness in arms or legs

•       Headache                        •     Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

•       Skin rash                          •     Coughing up blood

•       Fatigue             •     Loss of appetite

(Source: http://www.sts.org/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/whattoexpect.pdf)

RECOVERY: After a person has gone under the knife, it is crucial that they understand what they physically can and cannot do. Typically, recovery time is between six to eight weeks depending on the patient. Three things to consistently do after surgery is to keep the incision clean then dry it afterwards with soap and water as well as maintaining a healthy diet. Driving and physical activity are not advised for six to eight weeks after surgery. Though, a patient is advised to slowly increase activity, lift objects less than 10 pounds, take walks daily and refrain from pushing or pulling heavy items. (Source:  http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-recovering-after-heart-surgery)  

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A 3D model heart is the freshest approach to open heart surgery. This is done by a 3D printer that replicates the anatomy of the patient’s heart. Made out of plastic, the heart is created in the 3D printer overnight and the next day it is available for doctors to perfect surgical strategies and test new ones before operating on patients. This concept can potentially fit devices such as catheters, valves, and stents to show doctors the exact proportion of the individual’s cardiovascular system. (Source: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/health&id=9145349)

Paul J. Wang, MD, Professor of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics, talks about 3-D printing for hearts.

We’re talking about moving heart surgery to a whole new level right now. It’s going to be more precise and give doctors a better idea. Is this what 3-D printing will do?

Dr. Wang: I’m very excited about what 3-D printing can do. It can revolutionize what we do today in terms of medical device innovation and finding new therapies and strategies to treat heart rhythm problems. It enables us to be able to take a concept and translate it into a workable model that we can use for testing. We are trying to design a new tool; we want to really test it on the bench. We really don’t have a 3-D capability to do that at the present time. This allows us to take a real heart size model with its complexity of structure and to use the design that we’ve made and then to see whether the physical and mechanical constraints are adequate to operate within that environment. So, that’s something that we would have to do experimentally before we get to patients. Then, eventually we can figure out whether that will work in patients.