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Children's National Medical Center

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Northwest DC 202-476-5000 111 Michigan Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20010 Directions →

Making Tiny Hearts

At Children's National Health System, a printer is changing the way surgeons prepare for heart surgery.

For the last year, a three-dimensional printer has been creating exact replicas of children's hearts, complete with deformities and heart conditions specific to a particular patient. "Each ventricular defect can be relatively straightforward or extremely complex depending on location," heart surgeon Dilip Nath says. "The 3-D-printed heart has an impact on how precisely we're going to conduct the operation by planning it ahead of time."

To create a three-dimensional-printed heart, biomedical robotic expert Axel Krieger uses a patient's echocardiogram, or heart sonogram, to create a digital model on the computer. The printer uses that information to produce thin layers of plastic that are stacked on top of one another to form a three-dimensional object. The final product, a combination of hard and soft plastic, mimics the feel of a real heart.

The printer can also make a model that's two to three times the size of an infant's heart, which Nath says lets a surgeon more precisely see the location of a deformity--an important feature when dealing with such small hearts.

Children's National Health System is the only hospital in the area to use a three-dimensional printer that can read echocardiograms; most create digital models from CT scans and MRIs, even though echocardiograms are the standard of care for heart disease. Says Nath: "That's the big advantage--generating images using a technology that's more readily available than a CT scan or MRI."

Read all of the 'Saving Lives with Science' pieces about our 2013-2014 Top Hospitals.

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Posted at 4:00 PM/ET, 10/02/2014
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