forty hours. This is how long it takes to make a silicone heart out of a 3D printer at Katrina Hospital. Patients’ hearts are recreated layer by layer, as accurately as possible. In this way, doctors can prepare themselves as best as possible for a complex heart operation. In fact, they can perform an operation before the actual operation takes place.
“Until now, we always had to see a patient’s heart via ultrasound or MRI. These were two-dimensional images, and we then had to interpret them ourselves,” says cardiac surgeon Jules Olsthoorn. “Now we have software to convert 2D to 3D, but it’s still difficult to look at all aspects correctly,” he told Editie NL.
Look inside the body
Doctors can look inside the body from the outside using various techniques.
- X-ray is an image in which a different color is given to the bones. This makes this technology very suitable for examining bone fractures, for example.
- Ultrasound has been used in hospitals for over a hundred years. Soft and hard tissues are visualized using high-pitched vocal tones that humans cannot hear. As a result, you can see a fetus in the womb, for example.
- A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is often used to detect and screen tumors. You will be injected with radioactive material. Then these substances pass into the tumor.
So the printed core works better. “You can hold it in your hands and take a good look at it,” Olsthoorn says. “You can use it to perfectly prepare for surgery.” Together with a colleague, he is researching 3D printing technology. “It’s not necessary for standard operations, but such a fake heart is particularly nice for complex operations.”
Silicone was deliberately chosen. “Not only were we aiming for an anatomically correct model, but we also wanted it to feel realistic.”
Olsthoorn is optimistic about the results of the research so far. “We’ve come a long way, but there are still some big steps to be taken. We hope to make the models more realistic.”
The goal is ultimately to shorten the run time and reduce the chance of compilation. “Fingerprints can also be used to explain the process to patients and discuss the process with them. This way the patient also has a better understanding of what to expect.”
The 3D printer is being used frequently in medical care, says Joëll Magré, a biomedical engineer at 3D Lab. “It is used in many disciplines. Often in preparation for complex operations.”
Prostheses and implants are also made. “For example, for spine, cranial implants, pelvic reconstruction and bone loss in the knee.”
You may go one step further in the future. “If we can make these types of implants from the body’s own materials, you can even print organs. But that’s not the case yet.” However, bones can actually be printed.
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