Lifelike 3D-printed heart to help train surgeons

3D printed prosthetic heart Image copyright Nottingham Trent University
Image caption An unusually realistic 3D printed prosthetic heart could prepare trainee surgeons for live theatre

A prosthetic human heart which is "as close as you can get" to the real organ has been made using a new 3D printing technique, a university has said.

Its creator, Richard Arm at Nottingham Trent University, said the model, made of silicone gel, mimics the texture of a real heart and its inner workings.

It could be of "real benefit" to trainee surgeons, a Nottingham University Hospitals surgeon said.

The study has attracted interest from the Ministry of Defence and a hospital.

Artificial blood

Unlike previous efforts to 3D print prosthetic organs, Mr Arm's model is made by printing different blends of silicone gels, rather than dry powder.

CT scans of real hearts established the density of all the different parts of the organ and, using that data, the 3D printer produced for the first time a model "as close as you can get without creating artificial muscle fibres", he said.

Training for heart surgery often relies on basic plastic models.

"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," said Mr Arm.

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

Image copyright Nottingham Trent University
Image caption Richard Arm's 3D-printed heart mimics the textures of the human organ

The study even looked at plans to pump artificial blood through the prosthetic organ "to enhance the realism of a mock operation".

It has received interest from the Ministry of Defence's Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and the Queen's Medical Centre, the university said.

Professor Michael Vloeberghs, a surgeon at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, who helped develop the model, said: "This could be a real benefit to the way in which we educate students, by providing them with more realistic experiences before they go into live theatre."

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