In 2014-2015 the NIHR Cardiovascular Healthcare Technology Co-operative (HTC) provided £15,000 of funding to establish the project “3D printing to improve outcomes in Congenital Heart Disease”. In 2015-2016 the Cardiovascular HTC was awarded funding to establish the Paediatrics Technologies theme, which enabled a clinical research fellow position to be created to continue the progression of the project. Through the additional support and expertise of the clinical research fellow the HTC expedited the use of 3D printed heart models in the clinic. 

Clinician requests for 3D printed models of the heart of patients with congenital heart disease is starting to become a common practice within our centre. Especially when the complexity of the case requires a very detailed plan before performing a procedure (usually either an intervention or surgery). In order to create a 3D printed model, detailed image data is required. Patients typically undergo MRI or CT scans as standard prior to any intervention. This means data required for the creation of a 3D model is available for all patients. A protocol has been created for the use of retrospective data for the purpose of creating 3D printed heart models and has been submitted to R&D for approval. 

A database has been designed for the purpose of recording the necessary variables for each patient. This established a record of the models created and how useful they are at helping to understand the patient’s disease and plan the procedure. The database allowed the impact of the 3D printed models to be measured and tracked. This is combined with a questionnaire provided to surgeons to assess the clinician opinion. For each applicable case the 3D printed model is made available in the surgical meeting alongside the standard imaging data.

The HTC provided initial funding for the project. This was a proof of concept project enabling the creation of 3D printed heart models and a small patient study. HTC staff supported the project activities providing guidance and contracts support (and more).

The 3D printed heart model technology and approach is currently being used within the Evelina Children’s Hospital. Any models that are requested and created models are tracked, the utility and impact of this technology led innovation is being captured through the use of clinician questionnaires. 

Example of a section through a 3D printed heart from a patient with congenital heart disease.