Doctors and engineers at the Jump Trading Center of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center are paving the way for the future of 3D printing in medicine. This technology is benefiting patients right here in Central Illinois.

The first 3D heart was printed before Jump opened back in 2013. Now, the 3D heart library has grown to include more than 40 hearts.

It’s helping doctors with medical decision-making and resulting in better surgical outcomes for patients with complex cases. What they’re doing, right here at home, is serving as an example for hospitals across the country.

“When we talk about congenital heart defects, we’re talking about a whole spectrum of defects.” Pediatric Heart Surgeon, Dr. Mark Plunkett, explains.

That spectrum requires doctors to head to the drawing board for each case.

“The challenge um for heart surgeons has been to define the anatomy to a level where they can actually tailor that repair to that particular child.” Plunkett said.  

2D pictures, like x-rays and MRI’s, help doctors understand pieces of the puzzle, but putting that puzzle together into a 3D image was still up to the interpretation of the doctor. Enter the 3D printer, taking the guessing game out of piecing that puzzle together.

“Once you eliminate that barrier you improve the understanding, you improve the communication.” Dr. Matthew Bramlet, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at UICOMP and Lead Investigator at Jump for Advanced Image Modeling, said.

That improvement is bridging the gap for surgeons, allowing them to go into surgery knowing exactly what they’re getting into.

“There were in the past scenarios where you would go to the operating room thinking the anatomy was one way because of all our imaging then open the heart up and discover that things were not exactly how you had anticipated. This has been a game changer because I can sit at my desk the night before the operation and actually open the hearts up.” Plunkett explained.

This is far from the end of developments in this area. In fact, it’s only the beginning. The 3D heart lab is now working to make hearts out of more life-like materials, like silicone, taking the possibilities to a level they’ve never been before.

“Our goal was to get to the point where they can actually practice the surgery before the surgery.” Bramlet said.

It’s helping patients here and far beyond the walls of the Jump Trading Center. The 3D heart lab has already shipped out hearts to over a dozen different medical institutions nationwide, helping others to solve problem, others without the same resources.

“Considering where we’ve come from in the last say 20 years or 30 years in terms of pediatric heart surgery this is nothing short of amazing.” Plunkett said.

Dr. Plunkett adds that this has completely changed how they’re able to train and educate the next generation of Pediatric Heart Surgeons, helping them to get comfortable with operating on complex cases.