Researchers at Standford University will have been developing using 3D printing custom cardiac surgical devices. Hopefully, those cardiac surgical devices would help patients who suffer from a common heart ailment.

Surgeons use cardiac catheter devices to map a heart’s electrical activity. The devices especially enable to detect rhythm disturbances in a patient’s heartbeats. The only thing is that they are often limited to one size which does not bring out perfect results when surveying a heart’s activity.

All images Kevin Cyr

A focus on atrial fibrillation

This research started by an investigation on atrial fibrillation or AFib, a heart disturbance defined by irregular and often rapid heartbeats that disrupt the flow of blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

However, it was very tough to carry out the research because of the unique size of medical devices whose electrodes must be in contact with the heart’s surface for measurements of its activity. That’s why, the researchers decided to create devices that are personalized to each patient.

A soccer ball was used to demonstrate how the device conforms with surface of the heart

The manufacturing process

An MRI or CT scan of each patient has been done in order to record an image file of their heart. Every image file was thereafter sent to a 3D printer. According to medical student Kevin Cyr, the scan enabled to reproduce “a natural geometry and anatomy specific to that patient”.

The device is a small, thin, flexible silicone membrane with tiny holes in a grid-like formation, each holding a tiny electrode. When placed on the surface of the heart’s atrium, the device can measure the electrical activity over that specific region of the heart. The data is transmitted to a computer, where it produces a recording that shows the electrical activity at that site. The recordings produce a heatmap of the electrical activity that physicians use to identify the regions of the heart that need treatment.

Images via Kevin Cyr

For now, the researchers use their devices on the epicardium, or exterior, layer of the heart. They are looking forward to discovering if they could use the 3D printed object to map the interior surface of the heart.

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