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Researchers Develop 3D Printed Heart Valve Models

3D Printing Progress reports on yet another fascinating biomedical breakthrough facilitated by 3D printing.

Researchers from the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute and the Piedmont Heart Institute have collaborated to create a tool to aid cardiologists plan surgeries with far more precision for patients with heart valve disease.

“Using highly detailed imaging from CT scans, mechanical engineers are using 3D printers to make an exact model of an individual patient’s heart valve.  These one-of-a-kind models not only represent the size and proportion of the heart valve but can also mimic its physiological qualities – such as how it feels and responds to pressure.”

Heart valve disease, or more accurately aortic stenosis, is a condition where “the valves in the left side of the heart narrow, restricting blood flow and potentially leading to heart failure…the 3D printed heart valve models are particularly useful in planning a minimally invasive procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), during which heart doctors use a catheter to deliver a prosthetic heart valve to replace the patient’s impaired valve.”

As Chuck Zhang, a professor in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering explains: “the prosthetic valves are readily available in a range of types and sizes from multiple manufacturers; however, one of the most important factors for a positive outcome is matching up the patient’s natural heart valve with a prosthetic of the right type and size.  That’s where the 3D model comes into play.  The issue is, everybody is different.  [For example,] a male will be different than a female.  It’s a big challenge for the doctors to select the right type of…prosthesis for a specific patient.”

Zhen Qian, chief of Cardiovascular Imaging Research at the Piedmont Heart Institute adds: “the 3D printed models hold great promise for use in preparing for heart procedures.  The results are quite encouraging.  Our printed model is able to tell you before the procedure how much paravalvular leakage there will be and where it is, a good indicator for short and long-term mortality.”

These models are printed using a multimaterial 3D printer.  Additionally, “Zhang has been experimenting with embedding sensors on the models as well, using a machine that can print nanomaterial-enabled circuitry on the wall of the valve.  The sensors could potentially be used to monitor how much a prosthetic valve strains or deforms the model.  With this sensing capability, the printed heart valve also can be used as a phantom to monitor pre-surgery practice.”

“So far, the researchers have printed almost two dozen heart valve models based on actual patient imaging.”  As Zhang predicts: “there is big potential for these models.  We’re thinking in the future, this may be a standard tool for pre-surgery planning and for training new surgeons.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of 3D Printing Progress

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