3D printed hearts aid American Family Children’s Hospital surgery


A group of surgeons at American Family Children’s
(AFCH), Wisconsin, are collaborating with
engineers at the University of
Wisconsin Madison
 to use 3D printing to prepare for
pediatric heart surgeries.

Practise before it matters

3D printing as a surgical planning aid has been pioneered
by hospitals like the

Phoenix Children’s Research Institute
under Dr Justin Ryan and Dr Stephen Pophal, has focused on
translating advances in 3D printing to medical research.

The team at AFCH, led by Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos, has
been scanning patients’ hearts using traditional medical scans
to create 3D printed models that surgeons can interact with
before entering the operating room. The benefits are clear,
says Dr Anagnostopoulos, “There’s a lot of ability to see the
relationship of the different parts of the heart as they are in
real time. It prepares your whole team better”.

One patient, six year old Joseph Oehlof, had a heart condition
that may have required a transplant. Dr. Anagnostopoulos was
able to prepare for the complex surgery using 3D printed
models, which he says improved the surgery’s chances of

An example of a 3D printed heart used for surgical planning. Photo via University of Wisconsin.An example of a 3D
printed heart used for surgical planning. Photo via University of

Translating advances in engineering to the hospital

Roldan Alzate and his team of engineers helped the AFCH
develop the technique, though he believes the potential of 3D
printing in the medical field is only beginning to be realized,
“Everywhere in the human body would benefit [from]3D printing.
his is only the beginning.”

Another hospital in Zhengzhou, China, has conducted a
small study showing that heart surgeries on patients with the
same heart condition are 
30 minutes faster
when surgical planning is
aided by 3D scans of patients’ hearts. Though further studies
are necessary to corroborate their findings, it is clear that
3D printing is becoming a regular part of surgical planning
around the world.

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