Doctors at KK Woman’s and Children’s hospital (KKH) are using 3D printing to model hearts as a pre-surgery planning tool, to help them in visualising and planning the complex workings of the organ before the actual surgery.

The hospital started using 3D printing as a visualisation tool for children's hearts to improve pre-surgical planning for complex congenital heart conditions about a year ago. Before such novel technology was employed, doctors only had 2D models of the hearts, and had to plan the surgery using those visualisations.

3D printing would be especially useful for complex congenital heart surgeries, and KKH estimates that up to 2% of patients would benefit from this new technology as the hospital performs about 200 heart surgeries for its paediatric patients annually.

According to the National Birth Defect Registry, from the period of 1994 to 2000, congenital heart problems are the most common birth defect nationwide, at slightly over nine cases per 1,000 live births. This translates to about 2,665 live births and stillbirths, and 312 abortions over the same period.

No more need for multiple heart surgeries in children

One successful surgery involving a 3D printed heart was performed in January this year. The patient was a nine-year-old girl who had a complex congenital heart condition.

As birth defects in newborns cannot be gleaned solely from ultrasound and scan data, this is where 3D printing plays a key role. With this novel technology, the treatment team found a solution that needed only one surgery to repair all of the defects, as opposed to previous methods which required three or four surgeries.

Emile Bacha, a congenital heart surgeon and director of congenital and paediatric cardiac surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital who performed a similar surgery using 3D printing for a week-old baby boy in July, explained that “the baby’s heart had holes, which are not uncommon with coronary heart disease, but the heart chambers were also in an unusual formation, rather like a maze. In the past we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique, it was like we had a road map to guide us.”

The surgery performed on the 3.2kg baby utilised 3D printing to allow surgeons to only require a single procedure, and enabled the baby to avoid the typical series of palliative operations which carries inherent risk. The clinical outcome was ideal and the baby is on his way to a healthy life.

Widespread adoption of 3D printing

In China, doctors performed an open heart surgery on a nine-month-old, with the assistance of a 3D printed heart model in March this year.

The baby was a healthy 5.44 kg, but was found to suffer from shortness of breath. Upon medical checks, the baby was discovered to suffer from a life-threatening congenital heart defect known as total pulmonary venous anomalous drainage.

The child was born with themalposition of all four of his pulmonary veins and also suffered from an atrial septal defect which caused blood to flow between the upper chambers of the heart.  MIMS

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