3D prints get to heart of matter

Local | 25 May 2016

Realistic heart models can now be made with 3D printing technology, enhancing efficiency and safety of complex heart surgery, a joint research team from Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University said.

CUHK cardiology assistant professor Alex Lee Pui-wai said the new technology best suits planning for interventional cardiac surgery, including complex congenital heart problems.

Lee explained that doctors proceed with the interventional surgery after an ultrasound scan but it may take repeated attempts due to the complexity and variability of individual heart structures.

Gary Cheung Shing-him, a clinical assistant professor also at CUHK's cardiology division, added: "This will lengthen the process and also increase the surgery's risks, as the potential danger of piercing the heart comes with every attempt, though the possibility is not high."

With software developed by HKU's mechanical engineering department, 3D data will be collected from the ultrasound scans and a customized silicon model will be produced, the department's assistant professor Kwok Ka-wai said. The model allows doctors to rehearse for the surgery and the manufacturing cost of each model is less than HK$20, according to Kwok.

Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin first successfully operated on a 78-year-old patient last year with the aid of this technology.

Lee also said that the hospital is the first in Hong Kong to apply 3D printing in cardiac surgery and his team is among the first in the world to produce the models with ultrasound scan data.

Only three heart surgeries were conducted with the application of 3D printing in the hospital in 2015.

Lee said the operations were successful for all three patients. The success rate is higher than the global rate for the particular type of heart surgery, Lee said.

The technology may also be useful in training doctors, Lee said.

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