3D Hearts: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

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STANFORD, Cali. - 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.