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Here's how 3D printing is helping put heart surgery patients at ease

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Circa) -- When it comes to matters of the heart, surgery can be scary.

But doctors and engineers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have found a way to put patients, like 78-year-old Bernice Belcher, at ease using 3D printing.

Belcher had a heart murmur that worsened and after testing, doctors found that her heart valve had narrowed. Ultimately, they determined that she needed an artificial valve, but instead of jumping straight to surgery, the center turned to 3D printing.

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Bernice Belcher, 78, takes her blood pressure daily along with diet and exercise to stay heart healthy. 3D modeling of her heart structure guided doctors at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to perform open heart surgery to replace her aortic valve, rather than using a transcatheter method.

Prasad Dasi, an associate professor in the department of biomedical engineering, and his team used CT scans to create a 3D printed model of her aorta and valve structure.

"So using experiments on 3D printed models as well as simulations on the computer, we are able to give some new information to surgeons and cardiologists to then use that information to make a better care assessment for that patient," Dasi said.

Dasi explained that his team does this by connecting the 3D model of a patient's aorta to a heart simulator, which pumps a blood-like solution through the model, replicating the patient's blood flow and pressure. All this is meant to make it easier for doctors to prevent complications that could happen in the operating room.

According to Dasi, he and his team have focused on using this technique for patients with aortic valve stenosis. It's a condition where the aortic valve, which is located between the left ventricle and the aorta, has narrowed. That, then restricts the amount of blood that can flow out of the ventricle and into the aorta.

Matt Houston/CIRCA

One of the treatments for aortic valve stenosis, Dasi explained, is transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). TAVR is considered a minimally invasive procedure and doctors often access the heart through a blood vessel in the leg or a small incision in the chest.

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"To be able to assess if a patient will benefit from TAVR, there is a heart team and that is usually composed of interventiontional cardiologists, surgeons program managers, nurses, anesthesiologits, as well as engineers too, in the case of Wexner," Dasi said. "We have a meeting every week discussing patients and whether they will benefit from TAVR or whether they will just benefit from open heart surgery."

Dasi said his team initially set out to determine whether negative outcomes from the TAVR procedure were related to various patients' "unique anatomies."

After they started testing these 3D models in the lab, Dasi they "were then able to actually say that, 'Hey, this patient actually might be better off with this kind of therapy versus another kind of therapy.'"

Based on the results of the 3D modeling, Belcher opted for open heart surgery over the TAVR procedure to replace her aortic valve.

Dasi said this is just one example of how 3D printing and computational modeling can improve a patient's cardiac care.

"We hope that eventually, the computer models will be the routine that could be in the work flow of any hospital's planning procedure for every patient," he added.

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