3D Systems, the originator of 3D printing, revealed that it has partnered with OpHeart, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure that children born with life-threatening heart defects receive the best medical treatment possible, by providing pediatric heart surgeons with the 3D-printed tools they need to better prepare and rehearse complex surgeries.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one percent of all children are born with Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs), making it the most common birth defect. Tens of thousands require surgery each year in the U.S. in order to survive. 3D Systems has leveraged its 20 years of anatomical modeling expertise and end-to-end medical workflow to support OpHeart’s mission over the past four years by providing accurate, detailed anatomical models of patients with Congenital Heart Disease to surgeons. These models have facilitated a significant breakthrough in CHD surgery, providing vital aid to surgeons in their preparations for this complex, delicate surgical procedure.
In addition, the models are used by medical teams to explain the surgery to patients’ families in an effort to keep them fully informed of the upcoming procedure and what to expect.
“Feedback from the surgeons we’ve worked with through OpHeart is that our anatomical models are tremendously helpful to them in delivering successful patient outcomes,” said Katie Weimer, vice president, medical devices, 3D Systems.
3D Systems works directly with Anne Garcia, who founded OpHeart in 2015, six months after her own daughter, Ariana, was born with a life-threatening heart defect. “We fiercely believe that the ability to 3D print a replica of a CHD patient’s heart is an invaluable tool that can, to put it bluntly, save lives,” said Garcia. “By giving surgeons the ability to practice and plan for complex surgeries that involve reconnecting vessels as thin as human hairs in hearts no larger than a strawberry, it only stands to reason that the quality of surgery improves. We want every child with a life-threatening heart defect to benefit from this technology.”
In order to realize that goal 3D Systems is proud to participate in OpHeart’s “Heart-in-Hand Pledge”, whereby any requesting doctor or parent will receive a 3D printed model of their CHD patient’s heart in anticipation of surgery or catheterization, regardless of the family’s or hospital’s ability to pay.
To deliver on the Heart-In-Hand Pledge, 3D Systems segments 2D imaging data to create a 3D digital model, which is then 3D printed and shipped world-wide. 3D Systems creates the 3D printed models through a combination of its D2P software as well as ProJet CJP 660Pro 3D ColorJet printer and VisiJet materials. The company’s team of expert biomedical engineers convert the 2D MRI or CT scan data of the heart into a 3D model using the D2P stand-alone modular software package, which is designed to address and consolidate all 3D model preparation steps. It relies on automatic segmentation tools that minimize the effort and time associated with the creation of a digital patient-specific model.
Once created, the digital model can be exported to the 3D Systems ProJet CJP 660Pro to create a full color model of the heart. Full color models allow the anatomy to be selectively colored which enables surgeons to easily identify and focus on specific portions of the model during consultations with other surgeons and also better communicate the surgical plan with patients’ families.
“From a surgeon’s perspective, the incorporation of 3D printing into our craft is enabling tremendous breakthroughs,” said Dr. Jorge Salazar, chief of pediatric and congenital heart surgery at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital (Houston, Texas), and a member of the OpHeart Board of Directors. “The full color 3D printed models provided by 3D Systems have enabled us to achieve outcomes previously considered unobtainable. Their expertise and technology are helping us advance treatment and improve patient outcomes.”
Dr. Salazar is renowned for redefining success for CHD cases and patients previously deemed inoperable. For example, Dr. Salazar has developed the Texas One-Step, performing complex repairs in one surgery instead of the conventional protocol of multiple surgeries, resulting in improved patient care and less hardship for families.
The Heart-in-Hand initiative is of utmost importance in saving children’s lives, as there is no insurance reimbursement for these tools. “It is our hope that as more surgical teams work with OpHeart to employ 3D Systems’ anatomical models in their CHD surgeries, we will be able to definitively demonstrate what is common sense – providing doctors the ability to better prepare for complex surgeries makes a meaningful, measurable difference in the lives of these children,” added Garcia. “Hopefully, they will become the standard of care, as insurance companies recognize their value and reimburse for their use.”