Building a 3D Heart Library

Building a 3D Heart Library

Creating a Process

Through my interest in congenital cardiac MRI, I have been able to team up with Jump to start working on creating exact replica models of children’s hearts. We’ve been on this journey where we are creating processes that have never existed before, and the innovative part of the Jump lab is this mindset that if it doesn’t exist, we will create it.

It’s been very fun to be a part of this project in which we produce a 3D heart from 2D images. Over the past year we’ve been refining our process. We’ve had challenges, but also successes. We’ve now refined it down to where we can fairly quickly take a heart out of an MRI and put it into our hands.

For example, last week I had two requests for patients that already had MRIs for their actual heart models, and by the end of the week we had the models printed. It’s been a tool that our surgeons are coming to rely on. Even just this morning I was down in the OR taking a model model to the surgeon because he had a question prior to surgery.

The beauty of the whole project is that children with complex heart disease may have only of half of a heart to work with, so when you’re trying to figure out the optimal operation there’s no better way to do so than to actually see the heart and hold it in your hand before attempting the surgery.

Partnering with the NIH 3D Print Exchange

NIH 3D Print Exchange LogoWhile we are using these models for actual surgical planning – which I think is just a tremendous, incredible use for our patients – there’s also a lot of opportunities for sharing this information with the world in a type of library format. An issue that we’ve identified is that there aren’t anatomic models that describe congenital heart disease, or all the variations of tetralogy of fallot, truncus arteriosus, or total anomalous venous return as examples. It’s all been in pictures and textbooks. To be able to actually hold that model in your hand is a new kind of library – that is what we’re striving to achieve.

The logistics of how to create the architecture and be able to support having the library online was going to be a big hurdle. Luckily, the NIH 3D Print Exchange happened to come to life at the exact right time. We have been very impressed with their infrastructure, but more importantly their mindset. Speaking with Dr. Hurt at the NIH, it’s clear he understands the significance of taking something you’ve understood for years, printing it out, and holding it in your hands. This method can provide a whole new level of understanding. That’s exactly how we feel about these hearts.

For example, take something as simple as an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) – something I’ve read about in textbook after textbook and have seen in thousands of echoes. When we printed out an ASD, and I was able to hold it in my hand, I learned something new. We’ve begun the process of taking these perfect examples of pathology, where we have great images, and creating 3D models that we’re now able to put on the NIH 3D Print Exchange that will allow anybody to go online, download the file, and print it out.

Establishing a Collaborative Effort

We hold ourselves to a very high QA standard, because we want people to learn and to use these models as training tools. Our next step is to elevate the project by working with a collaborative group of people and creating a peer review system that provides very accurate anatomic examples of congenital heart disease. We hope to take the benefit of the 3D modeling resources that we have available here at Jump and to make it available to anybody that’s willing to learn through the work the NIH is doing with the 3D Print Exchange.

Right now we have several hearts up on the website – two pathologic specimens that were designed for the library. Those were from patients with ideal images that demonstrated the specific anatomic detail. We have also included a brief description file on the website. Also on the Print Exchange are some of our research hearts. These hearts were designed to show certain elements that are useful in surgeries, but are not fully detailed. By having these hearts on the 3D Print exchange as we move forward, we will be able to reference them when we present at scientific meetings. They also provide a reference point if we decide to conduct research with those specific hearts. I think the work that the Print Exchange is doing is going to explode overnight at some point. There’s a lot of potential there, and while the project is still in its infancy, it contains tremendous molecular biology (more than what I care to know). We really see a lot of potential for the future of the NIH 3D Print Exchange and medical or anatomic libraries.

Now that we’ve opened this Pandora’s box we’re not getting out of it.

This blog was originally published here at