With prospects such as 3D Printed Organs and Tissues, it is only a matter of time before 3D printing will totally change the field of medicine.
While fully functional 3D printed organs are still a few decades away, there are some applications of additive printing that are changing how doctors are treating their patients even now. Surgeons, in particular, are finding additive printing to be quite useful.
A two year old girl from Britain, who recently had her Heart Surgically Repaired with the help of 3D printing, is a living proof of the potential of additive printing in the surgical field.
Mina Khan, a little girl from the Manchester area of the Great Britain, was born with a large hole in her heart that allowed Blood to pass freely between the left and right chambers of her heart. This created a havoc in her circulatory system, with her little heart failing to pump enough blood to her body because of the increased load of blood. As a result, she became easily exhausted and breathless and her growth was slowing down; even her hair wasn’t growing.
Even though her mother, Natasha Buckley, knew exactly what was wrong with her, she was totally helpless. At the 27th week of her pregnancy, doctors had told her about the hole in her daughter’s heart and that the chances of her daughter being born alive were 50%. Even though Mina survived through pregnancy and was born alive, she wasn’t healthy at all. Doctors knew that the only way to give her a normal life was to open her heart and patch up the hole by surgery.
However, since a toddler’s heart is very small and one slight mistake during surgery can be lethal, even the most experienced heart surgeons avoid operating on infants unless they have no other option left. This was made worse by the fact that the hole in Mina’s heart was a very large one. As doctors pondered over the problem, her condition was deteriorating with little hope of survival.
Just in the nick of time, however, 3D printing came to Mina’s rescue. Doctors from St. Thomas Hospital in London, led by Dr. Gerald Greil, used data from CT and MRI scans of her heart to create a three-dimensional model. They proceeded to print out the 3D model using 3D printing and showed the model to the surgeons. The surgeons carefully analyzed the model which showed the exact dimensions and location of the hole and concluded that a successful surgery could be performed after all.
This replica was, thus, a ‘practice organ’ that allowed surgeons to better prepare for the actual surgery. Led by Professor David Anderson, the surgeons designed a bespoke patch using the 3D printed model and got ready for the actual operation on Mina’s heart. Professor Anderson explains how additive printing helped his team prepare for the surgery:
“Mina had a very complex hole in her heart – the kind of case that can pose a ‘huge intellectual challenge’. The 3D printing meant we could create a model of her heart and then see the inside of it with a replica of the hole as it looked when the heart was pumping. We could go into the operation with a much better idea of what we would find.”
Much to the relief of her mother, her symptoms soon disappeared and she became healthy in no time. She became more active and her body started growing like normal children.
Natasha explained Mina’s present condition to the editor of Times’ magazine in the following words:
“Mina is like a normal little girl now. She is eating, has stopped being sick and is growing at last.”
The miracle wouldn’t have been possible without 3D printing. A few years ago, such a case would have presented a huge dilemma for the surgeons. Radiologists and medical doctors used to analyze the CT Scans and MRI scans from a patient’s heart and tried to explain to the surgeons what they were going to find during the surgery. As is obvious, such an approach didn’t always bring the best results and many patients died during the surgery.
With the help of 3D printing, the medical doctors can simply print out a complete model of a patient’s heart from their scans and give it to the surgeons, who can then analyze and plan out the best approach for surgery, as happened in Mina’s case. Dr. Tarique Hussain, one of the doctors involved in printing out Mina’s heart model, explained to BBC in an interview:
“Previously, we (medical doctors) used to tell the surgeons what they were going to find during their surgery… Now, we can just give them the 3D model and they tell us what they are going to do. So, the roles have been reversed.”
The full interview can be viewed on YouTube in which Dr. Tarique Hussain and Natasha explain how additive printing saved Mina from the life-threatening hole in her heart:
Today, Mina is living happily with her mother, unaware of the danger she was in. Every little laugh that she utters and every little step she takes towards her childhood, demonstrates how 3D printing can give a healthier and happier life to patients.
Using 3D ‘practice organs’, surgeons can not only visualize the inside of a patient’s body more clearly than ever before but they can also effectively plan and carry out their surgeries without fear of complications.
It is clear that the benefits of 3D printing won’t just remain confined to only surgery. As additive printing continues to develop and more applications become apparent, there is no doubt that this technology will contribute to our Brighter Medical Future more than any other technology.
What are your thoughts on Mina’s miraculous recovery? Do you know of other patients who have been saved using 3D printing? Do let us know in the Comment section. Also, feel free to Like and Share this article with your friends.