3D printer sees its greatest success in the medical field

By WEEK Producer

July 22, 2013 Updated Jul 22, 2013 at 10:44 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- The hot new item in manufacturing is the 3D printer. Last week, the first rocket part made by a 3D printer passed a major NASA test but it's in the field of medicine where the 3D printer may have its greatest successes.

OSF St. Francis Medical Center and the Jump Trading Center in Peoria are on the cutting edge of that progress.

Sabeen Admani is a bio-medical engineer at the Jump Trading Center. She works in the aptly named "Innovation Center". That's where she and other employees create devices, simulations and gadgets which help train tomorrow's physicians.

Part of her responsibility is operating the 3D printer.

“A 3D printer is like a regular printer, except that it makes a solid object you can hold in your hand,” said Admani.

The 3D printer gets its instructions for what to create via computer. So, a digital medical CAT scan can be recreated by the machine.

That is very exciting to Admani and she's not the only one.

When word got out that the Jump Trading Center had a 3D printer, Dr Matthew Bramlet, a Children's Hospital physician, had an insight this 3D printer could be more than a training tool.

"The opportunity to use it in a modality that we hadn't used before was a great opportunity for us,” said Dr. Bramlet.

That is putting it mildly.

What this machine can do is amazing. It created a replica of a three-year-old child's heart. It’s doubly amazing because it allows the surgeon to look inside the heart before he ever cracks the chest.

"So that the surgeon can actually see and feel the heart in his hands prior to surgery,” said Dr. Bramlet.

This improves the pre-operative planning and makes the operation safer. The Jump Trading staff came up with this entirely new technique to create a sectioned model of a patient's heart.

"No one's ever done this before so we could do it whatever way we wanted. It also represents the surgeon's view when he's doing open-heart surgery and sort of allows us to peek inside the ventricles. This is a unique heart...this is a snowflake,” said Dr. Bramlet.

In fact, in one case already, a look at a 3D heart model allowed a surgeon to make changes to a planned operation.

There are all kinds of other possibilities being dreamed about here. For example, a library of model hearts showing various medical conditions available to doctors around the world as close as a computer connection and a 3D printer.

Whatever comes next, this first step made in Peoria is important.

"It's going to help in real ways, somewhere somehow, and I really believe that,” said Dr. Bramlet.

It’s important to note that 3D printers have been used to create a clear plastic heart for physicians. It cost thousands of dollars. The one made in Peoria costs just $25.

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