Now, medicine is exploring how 3-D printing can help doctors learn and do their jobs. Doctors at the University of Michigan, for example, used devices made with 3-D printing to install in a baby’s heart. Some researchers are working on printers that create human tissue that can survive on its own. At Cincinnati Children’s, more than 20 heart patients in the past year have been treated after doctors studied 3-D models of their hearts to plan surgeries.
Three-D printers are getting smaller and less expensive; machines for home use start at around $1,000. Printers for commercial use run to multiple thousands of dollars.
Mallott was born in 1984 with complex heart defects. Doctors at Cincinnati Children’s performed a technique that was new at the time. Mallott has been monitored since and did well. But in recent years, he developed heart-rhythm abnormalities and blood clots, which would have traveled to his lungs or brain. He needed another operation to avoid heart failure. But the repair would be risky. So Mallott’s doctors – cardiologist Dr. Gruschen Veldtman and Dr. David Morales, Children’s director of cardiothoracic surgery – turned to the digital fabrication lab.
With images taken with CT and MRI scans of Mallott, the 3-D printer produced slices of plastic about 1,000th of an inch thick that when bonded and completed became a replica of Mallott’s heart.
“The neat thing was,” said Morales, “we created the 3-D model out of material that we could actually cut open.” 3D Printing really does have a heart….