These days, you can 3D print just about anything. From sweaters to coasters, it’s hard to miss the prevalence of these products in everyday life. And now, that same technology is being used to save lives and improve care at BC Children’s Hospital. Thanks to a transformative gift from the Ian & Ken McIntosh Families and Kirmac Cares for Kids, BC Children’s is now home to Western Canada’s first pediatric 3D technology program. 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 has been to improve outcomes for kids with complex heart conditions. In its early days, the program is already making huge strides in helping cardiac surgeons prepare for procedures by allowing them to create three-dimensional models of hearts and aortas. The process uses images from CT or MRI scans to print an exact replica of a patient’s organ with layers of materials that closely resemble the tissue.
Having a physical model of an organ enables surgeons to gain a deeper understanding of a patient’s anatomy—especially since a child’s heart can range in size from that of a walnut to a fist, depending on age. In remarkable detail, they can study the heart—including the smallest arteries, veins and valves—to plan the best procedure possible. They are even able to perform simulated surgeries, to better understand how a planned procedure will go before ever having to lift a scalpel.
“The ability to create personalized patient models enables us to provide care that is specifically tailored to the anatomic makeup of individual patients, which elevates the calibre of care they receive.”
- Dr. Kevin Harris, pediatric interventional cardiologist at BC Children’s Hospital.
The benefits of 3D printing aren’t limited to cardiology. With its diverse range of applications, the possible impact of the 3D Technology Program can span across the entire hospital—ranging from creating patient-specific guides for orthopedic surgeries, to custom prosthetics, to enabling unrivaled teaching and simulation experiences that help train the next generation of medical experts.
3D printing technology is improving 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—helps 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 3D Technology Program is one example of how the generosity of donors is helping push the boundaries of what’s possible in children’s health care.