'Lifelike' human hearts to help trainee surgeons

A researcher is using 3D-printing to help create prosthetic human hearts with lifelike detail - including hard and soft areas - to help train surgeons before they go into live theatre.

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Richard Arm with a cast of a human heart
Richard's research has the potential to help improve the way trainee surgeons develop their understanding of critical operations.

Professor Michael Vloeberghs of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

A postgraduate student is using 3D-printing to help create prosthetic human hearts with lifelike detail - including hard and soft areas - to help train surgeons before they go into live theatre.

Richard Arm, an MSc Smart Design postgraduate student at Nottingham Trent University's School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, has undertaken the study with the support of the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham.

Using 3D-printing techniques, the prosthetic hearts feature lifelike internal detail and have the varying tactile qualities of real human hearts.

Using silicone gels, the different areas of hardness of the human heart - such as around the heart's arteries and valves - is achieved by using specific blends of the material.

As well as enhancing the education of trainee surgeons, the models would help teach medical students advanced anatomy and improve surgeons' clinical skills.

"Cardiothoracic surgery is one of the main life-saving treatments taught at medical schools around the world," said Richard, a composite materials specialist who also works at the university's School of Art & Design.

"But its teaching often relies on basic plastic models, which doesn't necessarily provide a realistic learning experience.

"This study shows how it's possible to replicate the human heart, inside and out, and make it so realistic that it could literally be 'operated' on by trainee surgeons.

"Students would be able to make incisions to experience how it would feel and see what the inside of the heart looks like.

"An operation could be simulated and students would be able to practice until they reached a satisfactory standard, improving the quality of medical care in the future."

The study also includes an exploration of how CT and MRI scan data could be used in the future to help 3D-print exact replicas of individual hearts. It also looks at the potential for artificial blood being pumped into the prosthesis to enhance the realism of a mock operation.

Professor Michael Vloeberghs, professor of paediatric neurosurgery and honorary consultant paediatric neurosurgeon at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Richard's research has the potential to help improve the way trainee surgeons develop their understanding of critical operations like heart surgery. This could be a real benefit to way in which we educate students, by providing them with more realistic experiences before they go into live theatre."

Project supervisor Professor Philip Breedon, a professor in smart technologies at Nottingham Trent University's School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, said: "Richard has identified what appears to be a niche in the market. His prostheses offer a strong degree of realism and we're keen to support him in taking this forward."

'Lifelike' human hearts to help trainee surgeons

Published on 4 September 2014
  • Category: Research; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment; School of Art & Design

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