The University of Washington School of Medicine and VA Puget Sound Health Care System today announced a two-year partnership to develop new uses of 3D printing to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of complex heart conditions. The collaboration is expected to help cardiologists better visualize the complex anatomy unique to each patient and improve access to, and outcomes for, new minimally invasive treatments.
The two organizations will share 3D printers, 3D materials, software and staff (physicians, researchers and engineers). The goal is to more quickly develop new protocols for planning procedures such as the creation of patient-specific 3D-printed models for treatment of mitral valve disease – a complex heart abnormality that prevents blood from flowing properly out from the heart to the rest of the body.
[Below, watch a video of a patient’s heart model being 3D printed.]
“Imagine the power of holding a life-sized 3D model of your own heart in your hands while your cardiologist discusses your treatment plan and walks you through your upcoming procedure step by step. This is the reality that we want for all of our patients. As the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States and one of the largest hospital-based 3D printing networks, the VA is defining how 3D printing is being used now and how it will be used in the future,” said Dr. Beth Ripley, a VA Puget Sound radiologist and chair of the VA’s advisory panel on 3D printing. She also is a UW assistant professor of radiology.
The VHA 3D printing network is already seeing first-hand the many benefits of 3D printing, Ripley said, from model kidneys to inform pre-surgical planning for veterans with renal cancer to specialized foot orthotics that help prevent avoidable amputations for veterans with type 2 diabetes.
At the UW School of Medicine, Research Scientist Dmitry Levin manages a nationally recognized 3D printing lab that has produced more than 100 patient-specific models to guide the decisions of cardiologists and surgeons.
“Beyond improving our understanding of a patient’s anatomy, it allows us to know which catheters and replacement valves will fit, and how best to approach the particular structure,” Levin said. “That knowledge turns into costs savings for the patient in terms of devices and procedure duration.”
By joining with the VA, Levin said, “we merge all of our collective expertise into a unified effort to offer patients personalized cardiac care based on their unique needs.”
The announcement comes less than a week after the Food and Drug Administration approved a catheter-based approach to aortic valve replacement (TAVR) devices for low-risk patients, who conventionally are directed to surgery instead. As a result, “we’ll see more cases that can benefit from 3D-printed models,” Levin said.
Both VA Puget Sound and the UW Medicine were early adopters of 3D printing technology and are seen as leaders in their fields. Developments from this research agreement are expected to not only benefit VA’s 9 million enrolled patients and UW Medicine’s broad geographic patient base, but also to reach patients outside of these hospital networks. Innovations from the collaboration are expected to inform future research, development and scalability of 3D printing applications to advance treatment approaches to address the complexities of heart disease globally.
The Veterans Health Administration has been on the forefront of bringing the innovations of 3D printing to the bedside. VHA’s integrated 3D Printing Network began in 2017, with VA Puget Sound serving as a flagship site, and it continues to take the lead in accelerating the technology’s use in health care. It is a national effort that promotes sharing ideas and best practices, solving problems, and pooling resources to improve Veteran care.
The next frontier, Ripley said, is bioprinting. “In the near future we will be able to make living, vascularized bone.”