Printing a human heart

May 24, 2016
illustration of computer printing 3D heart

Forty years after she underwent rigorous chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma, Karlie Gause's aortic valve was failing. Everyday activities became nearly impossible.

After trying all available medications, her doctors suggested she explore a procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement.

At first, Gause did not appear to be a viable candidate.

"I'm a realistic person and knew that my situation wasn't like most people," says Gause.

Knowing the 3D printing capabilities of the University of Minnesota, M Health cardiologist Greg Helmer turned to Paul Iaizzo, director of the U of M Visible Heart Laboratory.

Iaizzo's team printed exact replicas of Gause's heart using material to mimic her heart anatomy.

The lab's graduate students, along with the clinical team, then implanted various sized artificial valves in the 3D model to learn which placement option would work best for Gause's heart. Contrary to the care group's hypothesis, the larger valve appeared to be an ideal fit, giving Helmer and his team the confidence to proceed with her procedure.

The 3D technology offered the additional insight to make sure the approach was the best one for the patient.

In early 2016, Gause received her new aortic valve. Less than a week later, she was back at work.

"I hope other patients will be able to experience the benefits of 3D printing in health care too," says Gause.