Health Care's Next Frontier

Western Canada’s first pediatric 3D technology program comes to BC Children’s Hospital

These days, you can 3D print just about anything. From sweaters to coasters, it’s hard to miss the ubiquity of products in everyday life. And now, that same technology will be used to save lives and improve care at BC Children’s Hospital. Thanks to a transformative gift from Kirmac Collision & Autoglass and the McIntosh family through their charitable program, Kirmac Cares for Kids, health care providers have the ability to 3D print a patient’s organs—and in doing so, to revolutionize how care is delivered.

The 3D Technology Program will have applications across the entire hospital campus—but its first use will be to improve outcomes for kids with complex heart defects. At BC Children’s, the cardiac team sees and treats kids with a range of conditions, performing everything from minimally invasive procedures to open-heart surgeries. In complex procedures, surgeons are often required to rebuild tiny blood vessels, close holes and open narrowed heart valves.

They will now be able to prepare for these procedures in ways never before possible. The 3D Technology Program will allow health care providers to create three-dimensional models of hearts using images from CT or MRI scans obtained in the Department of Radiology. The process—which can take less than a day—involves printing an exact replica of a patient’s organ using layers of materials that most closely resemble the tissue.

Having a physical model of an organ will allow surgeons to gain a deeper understanding of a patient’s anatomy. In remarkable detail, they will be able to study the heart—including the smallest arteries, veins and valves—to plan the best procedure possible. They can even perform simulated surgeries, to better understand how a planned procedure will go before ever having to lift a scalpel.

“When there’s a question between different surgical avenues, the 3D model can help us choose the most optimal, and model the procedure ahead of time,” explained Dr. Kevin Harris, a pediatric cardiologist at BC Children’s Hospital. “For patients, that will hopefully mean faster procedures, less time under anesthesia and ultimately, shorter recoveries.”

The technology will also be invaluable in training the next generation of medical experts. “It’ll give students and residents tangible learning experiences that otherwise weren’t available before due to patient risks,” Dr. Harris added.

It is poised to improve care for families, too. Being able to see and hold a replica of their child’s organ—to truly understand what’s going on inside their body—can help families feel more comfortable and in control. What’s more, surgeons can use it to show them the planned procedures so families have a deeper understanding of the care that’s being provided.

The benefits of 3D printing won’t be limited to Cardiology. Orthopedic surgeons plan to use printed organs to prepare for bone surgery and urologists will use it to plan for complex kidney operations.

The 3D Technology Program is expected to be ready for clinical and research use within the next few months. Once fully functional, it’s expected that up to 200 kids and their families will benefit each year through this incredible program made possible by Kirmac Cares for Kids.

The technology will be invaluable in training the next generation of medical experts.

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