There’s now a way to see, and touch, an exact replica of key parts of the heart, such as a diseased coronary artery, the blood vessels critical to functioning of the heart. It’s a project by doctors and engineers at the University of Melbourne and could revolutionise cardiac care. A piece in ehealthnews.eu carried the story.
A key part of modern cardiology is getting the best possible view of what’s going on inside your heart, including a view of the heart's structure. Until recently the technology making this possible was echocardiography, which allows cardiologists to view ultrasound images of the functioning heart muscle, and angiography, which uses injected dye and x-rays to help doctors see what’s happening in the coronary vessels. Now there’s a third method that uses a supercomputer and a 3D printer.
It all starts with a camera thinner than a human hair. It’s threaded into the blood vessels of the heart during an angiogram. The images it produces are fed into a supercomputer that creates a 3D model of the artery. Within hours, a model of a person’s artery is 3D printed, providing cardiologists with unique information about the structure of the artery, how it will affect blood flow, and what treatment options are most appropriate, including whether to insert a stent to keep a blocked artery open.
Associate Professor Peter Barlis, one of the researchers, is an interventional cardiologist. "No two arteries are shaped the same.” He said. “We're all different, with arteries that have different branches and sizes, tapering from larger to smaller. And much like debris accumulates along a riverbank, plaque can cling to certain areas of a person's artery. So this technology really gives us a clearer picture of those areas.”
It appears that this is only the beginning. Once the supercomputer has the structural information, there’s apparently a lot more that becomes possible. Scientists from Imperial College in London and Harvard University in Boston are collaborating with the University of Melbourne to explore ways to diagnose disorders of the heart vessels and plan personalized interventions.
Affordability for these types of innovations for many African countries may be challenging. However, with non-communicable disease on the rise, better research and a better understanding of conditions such as atherosclerosis is likely to be valuable. And if 3D printer prices fall along a similar curve to the 2D version, affordability may be improving soon.
Images are from http://madeinneverland.tistory.com/201 from a different project involving 3D coronary vessel printing