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Health Beat: 3D hearts: Medicine's next big thing?

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 24 2013 01:15:22 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 24 2013 04:49:34 PM CDT

There are now more life-saving heart devices than ever, but a new discovery is taking cardiovascular innovations to the next level.

STANFORD, Calif. -

There are now more life-saving heart devices than ever, but a new discovery is taking cardiovascular innovations to the next level. Scientists have created a 3D heart that's one-of-a-kind. 

Every year, a half-million Americans will have some type of heart surgery.

Researchers at Stanford University are printing 3D models that are an exact replica of a patient's heart.

"If you look at the complexity and the detail of what we have, it's extraordinary," said Dr. Paul J. Wang, professor of medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics.

First, they take CT images and load them onto a computer. A software program converts the data into layers. The printer then creates the heart out of hot plastic.

"So, the printer is just printing layer by layer to build up a 3D solid," said Jeff Caves, postdoctoral research fellow, Stanford University.

The 3D heart could allow doctors to fit devices like catheters, stents, and valves to the exact dimensions of a patient's heart. Surgeons could also test different options in advance, making procedures safer for patients.

"When you can actually put a device inside the heart and see how it behaves, that gives you another set of confidence that it's likely to work in a human," Wang said.

It's an innovation that could change the game when it comes to heart care. 

"I've never seen anything like this," Wang said.

Other research is going on using 3D printing, combined with living cells and other biological material, said Wang, adding that the goal is to one day print functioning human organs.

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DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Paul J. Wang about 3D hearts