Forty hours. This is the time it takes for a silicone heart to come out of the 3D printer at Catharina Hospital. Patients’ hearts are recreated layer by layer and as accurately as possible. In this way, doctors can best prepare for a complex heart operation. In fact, they can perform an operation before the actual operation takes place.
“Until now, we could always see the patient’s heart via ultrasound or MRI. These images were in 2D and then we had to interpret them ourselves,” explains cardiac surgeon Jules Olsthoorn. “We now have software to convert 2D to 3D, but it is still difficult to look at all sides correctly,” he explains to Editie NL.
Look inside the body
Doctors can look inside the body from the outside using various techniques.
- X-ray is an image in which the bones are given a different color. This makes this technique very suitable for the examination of bone fractures, for example.
- Ultrasound has been used in hospitals for over a hundred years. Hard and soft tissues are visualized using high-pitched sound tones, which cannot be heard by humans. As a result, you can see a fetus in the womb, for example.
- The PET scan is often used to detect and examine tumors. You will be injected with radioactive substances. These substances then go to a tumour.
A printed heart therefore works best. “You can hold it with your own hands and look at it carefully. You can use it to set up an operation perfectly,” says Olsthoorn. With a colleague, he is studying this 3D printing technique. “It’s not necessary for standard operations, but such a counterfeit core is especially nice for complex operations.”
The silicone was deliberately chosen. “Not only are we aiming for an anatomically correct model, but we also want it to be realistic.”
Olsthoorn is optimistic about the research results so far. “We’ve come a long way, but there are still big steps to take. We hope to make the models even more realistic.”
The goal is ultimately to shorten the operating time and reduce the risk of compilations. “Imprints can also be used to explain the operation to patients and discuss the operation with them. This way the patient also has a better understanding of what to expect.”
The 3D printer is increasingly used in medical care, explains Joëll Magré, biomedical engineer at the 3D Lab. “It is used in many specialties. Often in preparation for complex operations.”
Prostheses and implants are also made. “For example, for the spine, cranial implants, pelvic reconstructions and knee bone loss.”
This could go even further in the future. “If we can make these kinds of implants out of the body’s own material, you could even print organs. But that’s not happening yet.” However, the bones can already be printed.
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