• A 3D printed heart stent. Photo credit: the University of MelbourneA 3D printed heart stent. Photo credit: the University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne researchers on the brink of surgical revolution

3D printing is helping to lead new revolutions in many areas of research and engineering at the moment, with medical application being one of the most dynamic areas.  The ability to quickly design and create a personalised implant is changing the world of surgery.

One of the latest developments in this area is 3D printing of a customised heart stent to fit the exact shape of a patient’s artery.  Stents have been used in heart disease patients since the late 1980’s to open up a clogged artery and improve the blood flow through it. 

The revolutionary surgery makes use of a technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT) that Associate Professor Barlis of the University of Melbourne introduced to Australia in 2009.   This technique involves inserting a tiny camera into the arteries to see where any blockages may be.  The image captured by the camera can then be fed into a supercomputer and has been helping University of Melbourne researchers to better understand the intricacies of blood flow and where deadly cholesterol plaques form in the arteries.

The supercomputer maps around a million data points from the image to generate a computer model of the artery – that can then be 3D printed as a custom-fit stent.  The researchers are currently still gathering data so that they may be able to print the artery whilst the patient is still in surgery – this means they need to understand more about how the blood flows to create an optimum stent for the patient, that will prevent further plaque build up.  The data gathered through this process may also help them to start to predict heart attacks in the future.

You can find out more about the process behind this research by reading the full article on the University of Melbourne website.

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