Multidimensional Medicine On the 9th Floor of CHOP's Main Hospital sits the Objet500 Connex 3-D printer, a machine that’s reshaping the future of healthcare — one drop of liquid plastic at a time.

Using this high-tech printer and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, cardiologists Mark Fogel, MD, director of Cardiac Magnetic Resonance, and Yoav Dori, MD, are creating exact models of their patients’ hearts, defects and all. Instead of looking at a flat MRI to determine the best way to perform a surgical repair, surgeons at CHOP can now hold and closely analyze an anatomically correct replica of the heart itself.

“There are many complex congenital heart diseases, and no two defects are exactly the same,” says Dori. “Even with all of the advanced imaging technology we have, we can’t always predict what will happen once we do a repair. 3-D models allow us to get a closer look at how placing a patch or valve will impact blood flow.”

Dori is part of a clinical trial studying whether 3-D models can improve patient outcomes.

The biggest advantage of the Connex printer is that it prints using a material that can be cut into, patched and sewn. The hope is that using 3-D heart models to practice “virtual procedures” can help cardiologists and surgeons better prepare for difficult procedures.

“The more anatomic detail you get, the better and safer the procedure will be,” says interventional cardiologist Matthew Gillespie, MD. Gillespie is part of a team pioneering transcatheter valve replacements, a minimally invasive procedure during which cardiologists replace a child’s pulmonary valve through a small incision in the leg or groin.

“This procedure has the potential to reduce the number of open-heart surgeries required over a lifetime, and the detailed anatomic information provided by 3-D printing significantly enhances pre-procedure planning,” adds Gillespie.

“Our goal is to hit a home run with every operation,” says Christopher Mascio, MD, one of the CHOP cardiothoracic surgeons currently using 3-D heart models for presurgical planning. “Our hope is that 3-D printing will help us achieve that goal.”

— Megan O'Neill