Transforming Congenital Heart Disease Outcomes With 3D Printing

Pediatric Heart, 3d printed
Pediatric Heart, 3d printed
The use of 3D-printed models is transforming congenital heart disease care by improving clinical outcomes and medical training.

The use of 3D-printed medical models has transformed procedural practice for congenital heart disease, particularly by reducing the learning curve involved in medical training and improving the understanding of individual cardiac anatomy prior to intervention.

According to a review published in JACC: Basic to Translational Science, 3D models may improve outcomes in patients with congenital heart disease by also improving communication among multidisciplinary teams, enhancing shared decision-making, and facilitating greater medical breakthroughs via basic science and translational clinical investigations.

Approximately 3 out of 1000 patients with congenital heart disease require a surgical or catheter-based intervention early in their lifetimes, according to the study investigators. 

Considering that outcomes are affected by the complexity of the patient’s underlying anatomy, 3D models may substantially improve the quality of procedures in this patient population. Today, many clinicians can use 3D-printed models that are an exact replica of the anatomy of a patient with congenital heart disease. These models work to optimize approaches to disease management prior to surgical intervention, resulting in the potential reduction of operating time and possible complications.

Simulated surgery can be performed with 3D-printed models, a strategy typically involved in pre-surgical planning. Using this approach, interventionalists can develop several surgical options for situations that can occur during a procedure in patients with congenital heart disease, including bailout scenarios in cases in which the available options are deemed inappropriate or unsuccessful. In addition, 3D-printed models can aid in placement of ventricular assist devices in patients with congenital heart disease, ultimately improving post-procedural outcomes. Also, 3D models for congenital heart disease can minimize the learning curve for cardiac trainees by helping them develop an understanding of complex 3D anatomy, enabling high-fidelity simulation experiences, and increasing their exposure to rare cases.

The current standard of care for congenital heart disease interventions, such as 3D volumetric rendering, fails to provide this heightened level of surgical simulation. However, costs associated with 3D modeling and printing represent a hindrance to wide-scale application of this approach in the clinical setting.

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Next steps in the evolution of 3D printing will likely “be ‘multimodality’ printing, with a model created by combining key elements of the anatomy from different imaging modalities.”


Anwar S, Singh GK, Miller J, et al. 3D printing is a transformative technology in congenital heart disease. JACC Basic Transl Sci. 2018;3(2):294-312.