(10/22/13) - A very high-tech new way to see hearts in 3D is helping doctors save more lives. Stents, balloons, artificial valves are among a sea of innovations in cardiac care. But this new invention could take life-saving to a whole new level.
Every year, half a million Americans have some type of heart surgery. What is happening in a Stanford University lab could one day make those procedures safer. Researchers are printing 3D models that are an exact replica of a patient's heart.
"If you look at the complexity, the detail of what we have, it's extraordinary," say Dr. Paul J. Wang, a Stanford professor.
First, they take CT images and load them onto a computer. A software program converts the data into layers. The printer then creates a model heart out of hot plastic.
"So, the printer is just printing layer by layer to build up a 3D solid," says Stanford researcher, Jeff Caves.
The 3D models 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, in a human," says Dr. Wang, "I've never seen anything like this!"
The doctor 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.
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