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Heart model is 3D printed for the first time using multiple imaging techniques

27 June 2015

Congenital heart experts have successfully integrated two common imaging techniques to produce a three-dimensional anatomic model of a patient's heart.

A 3D image of the heart model, courtesy of Materialise

The 3D model printing of patients' hearts has become more common in recent years as part of an emerging, experimental field devoted to enhanced visualization of individual cardiac structures and characteristics. However, this is the first time the integration of computed tomography (CT) and three-dimensional trans-oesophageal echocardiography (3DTEE) has successfully been used for printing a hybrid 3D model of a patient's heart.

A proof-of-concept study authored by the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital experts, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, also opens the way for these techniques to be used in combination with a third tool - magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

"Hybrid 3D printing integrates the best aspects of two or more imaging modalities, which can potentially enhance diagnosis, as well as interventional and surgical planning," says Jordan Gosnell, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital cardiac sonographer, and lead author of the study. "Previous methods of 3D printing utilise only one imaging modality, which may not be as accurate as merging two or more datasets."

The team used special software to register images from the two imaging modalities to selectively integrate datasets to produce an accurate anatomic model of the heart. The result creates more detailed and anatomically accurate 3D renderings and printed models, which may enable physicians to better diagnose and treat heart disease.

Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are established imaging tools for producing 3D printable models. Three-dimensional trans-oesophageal echocardiography (3DTEE) is also a feasible imaging technique to generate 3D printing in congenital heart disease.

According to Joseph Vettukattil, co-director of the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Congenital Heart Centre and senior author of the study, each imaging tool has different strengths, which can improve and enhance 3D printing: CT enhances visualisation of the outside anatomy of the heart; MRI is superior to other imaging techniques for measuring the interior of the heart, while 3DTEE provides the best visualisation of valve anatomy.

"This is a huge leap for individualised medicine in cardiology and congenital heart disease," says Vettukattil, who believes the technology could be beneficial to cardiologists and surgeons. "The model will promote better diagnostic capability and improved interventional and surgical planning, which will help determine whether a condition can be treated via transcatheter route or if it requires surgery."


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