Wisconsin surgeons use 3D printing to prepare for complicated heart surgeries

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A group of surgeons in Wisconsin are teaming up with engineers to use 3D printed models of patients' hearts to prepare for complicated pediatric heart surgeries.

The 3D printed hearts are made based on traditional medical scans. Information from those scans is translated in to a plastic model of a patient's heart.

"The big advantage of the 3D printing is that you can recreate the heart," said Dr. Petros Anagnostopoulos, Chief Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon at American Family Children's Hospital, and University of Wisconsin (UW) Health faculty member.

Dr. Anagnostopoulos can study a printed heart before going in to surgery, allowing him and his team to get a better idea of what they can expect in the operating room.

"It's the closest I've ever seen, some model -- to the actual thing," Dr. Anagnostopoulos said.

"When the surgeon can interact with a 3D printed heart before surgery, that helps a lot," Alejandro Roldan Alzate -- a UW Engineering Professor that helped develop the 3D technique said.

One child that has benefited from 3D printing is six-year-old Joseph Oehlof. Joseph, born in China, had a rare heart condition that could have required a transplant.

Joseph was adopted by a Mt. Horeb family. They brought him to the American Family Children's Hospital for medical care.

When he was four, Dr. Anagnostopoulos preformed a complex surgery on him to repair his heart. Dr. Anagnostopoulos used a 3D model of Joseph's heart to prepare for the surgery.

"There's a lot of ability to see the relationship of the different parts of the heart as they are in real time," "This is only the beginning," Dr. Anagnostopoulos said. "The 3D model prepares you better. The other thing it can do, it prepares your whole team better."

Roldan Alzate and his team are working to find other ways to utilize 3D printing in the medical field. They are experimenting with pumping fluids through 3D models to study the way blood circulates through organs.

"What we have at UW as a benefit is that the medical school and the engineering school are just a bus ride away," Roldan Alzate said. "All of the advances we have in engineering can be translated immediately in to the hospital."

Roldan Alzate said he believes there is a lot of opportunity to use 3D printing in orthopedic surgeries as well as preparing surgeons for other types of complex procedures.

"Everywhere you think in the human body would benefit by the 3D printing," Roldan Alzate said.

"This is only the beginning," Dr. Anagnostopoulos said.