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9 July 2018

How cardiologists use 3D printing to save tiny lives

Pediatric cardiac surgery is one of the most demanding medical specialties. It needs to deal with delicate structures like tiny little hearts of neonates. Here is a story about a determined child surgeon, his newborn patient with a heart defect and child’s mother.

The heart of the newborn child can weigh even 20 grams, and fits on a human’s palm. Procedure on such a small heart brings a lot of difficulties.

When the heart has only one abnormality, or it’s commonly known one , most of the doctors can base on their experience or the popular methods like CT scan and MRI to create an image of the impairment. The real challenge starts when the heart is tiny, the heart disease is rare, or it differs from other, typical cases. In all of those examples, even sub-millimeters can make a life-or-death difference. To increase the chance of survival, surgeons decided to 3D print the heart with laser sintering desktop 3d printer.

Sub-millimeters from death

This is a story of Kordian, a 3-week old infant from Poland was suffering from the heart disease called interrupted aortic arch.

– The problem was that aorta, the biggest vessel that is coming out of the heart was suddenly interrupted – says Jarosław Meyer-Szary MD from the Department of Pediatric Cardiology and Congenital Heart Defect, University Clinical Center in Gdańsk, Poland.

As this condition could be fatal, there was also a threat to Kordian’s life. Doctors along with his mother, a person who didn’t have any knowledge about the disease, had to decide quickly about undertaking the procedure. For dr Meyer-Szary it was obvious that he need to do everything to save the boy. He made a decision to use 3d printed model of Kordian’s heart in the original size as a support.

With assistance of SLS 3D printing

3d printing is becoming more and more popular solution in many hospital departments. It is also used by cardiologists. They could print every heart and see the abnormality closely. Doctors could even do a mock-up surgery before the real procedure. Unfortunately, while the most common FDM 3D printers are good enough for everyday use, this time that technology couldn’t help. Doctors needed a solution that would provide surgical precision. They had to imitate every little vein and artery that surrounds the heart. For FDMs, veins were either too thin to print or, because of the needed supports, could be easily torn apart during post-processing.

As it turned out, SLS (selective laser sintering) 3D technology meets all the requirements. Such SLS 3D-printed models can be used both for planning the cardiac surgery but also for interventional procedures, especially in complex and rare congenital heart diseases when the anatomy is always different and vary from patient to patient.

Medical doctors are not the only beneficiaries, it is also important for the patients and in this case, parents to understand the situation and give the permission to operate.

– As a head of Department I have to talk to parents, students and explain sometimes very complicated congenital heart defects to the people who are not doctors, not professionals in this area – says Joanna Kwiatkowska MD Ph.D, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Pediatric Cardiology and Congenital Heart Defect, University Clinical Center in Gdańsk, Poland.

3D printing helps to plan surgery and therefore makes it safer, easier and shorter.Operations, where doctors practiced on 3D printed hearts, have a higher rate of success, which is leading to a better life of the patient.

Seeing the model made it easier for Kordian’s mother to understand how serious his condition was, and how the procedure will proceed. Thanks to that, the consent to the operation was more conscious than if she only saw the defect on the screen.

– I learned about the disease, interrupted aortic arch, when Kordian was three weeks old – says child’s mother. This model of the heart helped us a lot because I didn’t understand this heart defect while seeing it on the screen. Touching this printed model helped me realize the seriousness of my child’s disease. Having this model in front of me, I could get it. The doctor showed me where the rapture is, presented me the defect and showed how he would connect it – she adds.

Difficult but successful procedure

Surgeons decided to print Kordian’s heart to better plan an operation. With the rapture clearly visible on the SLS 3D printed model, the minimal size of the heart wasn’t a problem. It helped to prepare for the complicated operation. They connected raptured fragments of the aorta.

– This was difficult surgery, and such a model helped to see the heart more close then on the TV screen – says dr. Meyer-Szary.

Today Kordian is 18 months old. His happy face and positive attitude toward new people don’t reveal that over a year ago this boy could not live.

The 3D printer behind the heart

Model of the heart was printed on Sinterit Lisa, the first and leading desktop-size selective laser sintering 3D printer. For three years on the market, it has gained the reputation of being the only desktop SLS, able to print complex and precise prints with the same quality as big and expensive SLS machines. It is not only easy-to-use but also extremely affordable as for the SLS technology printer. Therefore it is excellent choice for clinics as well as whole educational sector.
Only in July 2018 Sinterit is launching a new, even more reliable generation of Lisa. Now with increased printing size in Y-axis, the overall diagonal dimension of the printing area raised from 227 to 245 mm. Recent hardware enhancements resulted in better temperature management and boosted the reliability of prints. Altogether with improved UX and easier maintenance makes the new generation of Sinterit Lisa even better than its predecessor.

About Sinterit

Sinterit is the first manufacturer of desktop selective laser sintering 3D printers, with a mission to accelerate the world’s development by giving access to innovative 3D printing SLS technology. It has a focus on ease of use, versatility and availability, so that tomorrow can happen today. The company, founded by former Google employees with experience in the industry since 2014, delivers reliable, high-precision printers to customers around the world. During its three years on the market, Sinterit LISA has printed thousands of 3D products. For more information visit www.sinterit.com or follow @Sinterit on Facebook, Twitter or watch our new film on YouTube.

More information:

Michał Krzak
Marketing Communication Manager, Sinterit
[email protected]

Iwona Skolicka
CMO, Sinterit
[email protected]