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3-D Heart Models Help Save Children’s Lives

Tue, 2013-11-26 14:14 -- llancaster
Biomedical engineers created a 3-D model of the heart to aid pediatric surgery.
Originally published: 
Nov 26 2013 - 2:00pm
By: 
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

Fixing heart defects in children can be complicated, and the more information doctors can get before surgery the better.

To help provide that information, Justin Ryan, an artist turned biomedical engineer, is using his technical skills as an artist to make three-dimensional models of a heart to help doctors operate on children’s hearts.

“My background is in art and I’ve since transitioned to this very science-oriented field,” said Ryan, who is based at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Ryan always thought art and animation were in his future, but one day his future took a science turn.

“Oftentimes I get a call from a doctor saying they have a patient with a defect and they want a model produced, so to give them more information before they go into surgery,” said Ryan.

The models are made with a 3-D printer, and allow doctors to see and touch the heart before surgery even begins.

“These models are exact replicas of a real person’s heart. And that makes them extremely valuable for planning surgeries and visualizing complex anatomy where decision making is imperative for successful treatment,” said David Frakes, a biomedical engineer at Arizona State University.

The models are based in images from a patient’s CT and MRI scans. Each part of the model, from the heart’s four chambers to its blood vessels, is color-coded to help doctors visualize the tiny heart structures that will be worked on in surgery.

“The 3D modeling gives us very accurate detail and there [are] thousands of different things that can be wrong with your heart and we need to know the precision of where it’s wrong,” said Stephen Pophal, a cardiologist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The models are able to help doctors explain to parents the location of a defect and how it can be fixed.

The models combine art and science for a 3-D experience that helps saves young lives.


Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV. She has produced over 600 video news segments on science, technology, engineering and math in the past 13 years for Inside Science TV and its predecessor, Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science.

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