Research rundown: 3D printing transforming healthcare

Aug 25, 2017
Research rundown: 3D printing transforming healthcare

The claim

Three-dimensional printing is transforming healthcare by providing cheaper alternatives to modern-day prosthetic implants and helping doctors plan intricate surgeries.

The science

Simply put, 3D printing involves the creation of a structure by building up multiple layers of a material using a computer-assisted machine.

3D printing uses polymers – large molecules of specific types of material – to build objects. There is a wide range of polymers that can be used, from plastics to metals to ceramics and many more.

The structures created using 3D printers are dictated by instructions fed into them which act as guidelines for how each polymer layer is built.

3D printing is already used in a number of industries outside healthcare, including vehicle manufacturing and the military.

The method

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Piedmont Heart Institute teamed to combine standard medical imaging with 3D printing technology to create patient-specific heart valves. The idea was to create valves that could be used prior to valve implantation to determine which size of valve should be used.

The team created replicas of heart valve replacements from 18 patients. They used CT scans of each patient’s heart as the printing instructions.

The copies were then tested in a lab to determine the amount they leaked when liquid was passed through them – a major issue in heart valve replacement if the wrong size of valve is implanted into a patient.

The researchers were also able to add other features that can affect liquid flow through the valves. For example, applying material to the inner lining of the valves to mimic plaque buildup. This could give a more accurate physiological representation of a patient’s valve replacement.

The results

The 3D-printed valves were highly accurate in predicting leakage of valve implantation in certain cases.

The potential

In healthcare, 3D printing is used to build prostheses, including replacement tissues and organs, as well as in dentistry. It is also widely used for planning surgery.

Some examples of surgical planning include full-face transplantation1, cancer surgery2 and the separation of conjoined twins3.

In this case, creating personalized heart valve replicas using 3D printing could help doctors test valves before surgery to achieve better surgical outcomes.

The source

Zhen Qian, et al. Quantitative Prediction of Paravalvular Leak in Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Based on Tissue-Mimicking 3D Printing. JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, 2017; 10 (7): 719.


  1. Virtual Surgical Planning Assists with Full Face Transplant. 3D Systems. Accessed August 4, 2017. Available at:
  2. 3D Printing Saves a Woman’s Kidney: Surgeons perform impressive renal tumor surgery. Accessed August 4, 2017. Available at:
  3. Radiological Society of North America. “CT and 3-D printing aid surgical separation of conjoined twins.” ScienceDaily. Accessed August 4, 2017. Available at:
Research rundown: 3D printing transforming healthcare

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