Hospitals in Sydney, Australia, will soon be printing life-size 3D replicas of the hearts of patients who are about to undergo complicated surgeries.  

This technique gives surgeons a better grasp of a patient’s heart condition and in turn allows them to prepare more thoroughly for the operation. It will be widely used at St. Vincent’s Private Hospital and Liverpool Hospital within a year.

Once in place, surgery planning with 3D-printed hearts is expected to reduce the number of patient injuries and death and the time it takes to finish operations. It will also minimize unexpected surprises.

“The idea is that a patient can come and have a scan of their heart and then we can print out the heart in 3D so we can plan surgery and treatment,” said James Otton, clinical faculty member and cardiologist at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

This step is even more critical today, with the trend for robotic and other forms of minimally invasive surgery.

The actual printing of the heart replica isn’t the hard part though. It’s actually “the 90 percent of work before that to get the CT scan into the 3D model using image processing to remove the noise,” said Dr. Otton, who is also the director of cardiac MRI at Liverpool and a cardiologist at St. Vincent’s.

But all that hard work will be worth it, especially for complex and traditionally unpredictable heart problems.

“In congenital heart disease, for example, you have a lot of anatomical anomalies that these babies are born with, and they can often be corrected but they are palliated with several operations to get them to a stage that is compatible with life,” said Kumud Dhital, a transplant and cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Vincent’s. “The heart can be back to front, the chambers can be connected the wrong way.”

As for the future, Dr. Dhital says that technology for printing 3D hearts that are closer matches to normal hearts in terms of materials and structure is already being developed.