3D Systems pledges to print pediatric patient–specific heart models regardless of user's ability to pay

OPHeart/3D Systems3D-printing pioneer 3D Systems (Rock Hill, SC) has partnered with OpHeart (Houston, TX), a nonprofit organization that provides pediatric heart surgeons with the 3D-printed tools they need to better prepare for and rehearse complex surgeries. The use of detailed anatomical models prior to surgery, which typically involves reconnecting vessels as thin as a human hair in hearts the size of a strawberry, has been called a “vital aid” for surgeons performing congenital heart disease surgery (CHD). 3D Systems has been supporting OpHeart’s mission since it was founded in 2015. The partnership announced yesterday cements 3D Systems’ participation 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.

CHD is the most common birth defect, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. One percent of all children are born with CHDs, and tens of thousands require surgery each year in the United States in order to survive. Anatomical models help surgeons to prepare for this complex and delicate surgical procedure. In addition, the models are used by medical teams to explain the surgery to patients’ families.

OPHeart was founded by Anne Garcia 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. “We want every child with a life-threatening heart defect to benefit from this technology.” 3D Systems’ commitment to the Heart-in-Hand Pledge furthers this goal.

The technology involves segmenting 2D imaging data to create a 3D digital model, which is then 3D printed. 3D Systems creates the 3D-printed models through a combination of its D2P software, ProJet CJP 660Pro 3D ColorJet printer and VisiJet materials. Biomedical engineers convert the MRI or CT scan data of the heart into a 3D model using the D2P stand-alone 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, explained 3D Systems in a press release. 

Once created, the digital model can be exported to the printer to create a full color model of the heart, which can be shipped worldwide. Full color models allow the anatomy to be selectively colored, enabling 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, TX), 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,” said Salazar.

The Heart-in-Hand initiative is of utmost importance in saving children’s lives, as there is no insurance reimbursement for these tools, added 3D Systems in the release. “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,” said Garcia. “Hopefully, they will become the standard of care, as insurance companies recognize their value and reimburse for their use.”

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