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Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 21:42

3-D printer gives cardiac surgeons true-to-life training

By Willa Wu

HONG KONG – The success rate of complicated cardiac surgeries will be significantly enhanced as cardiologists in Hong Kong can undergo pre-operation training with the aid of 3-D printing technology, the head of the city’s Hospital Authority said on Wednesday.

Hospital Authority Chairman John Leong Chi-yan made the announcement at the opening of Hong Kong’s first higher-education laboratory dedicated to 3-D printing ¬– the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s (PolyU) University Research Facility in 3-D Printing.

The city’s only Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) Simulation Training Model was unveiled at the opening ceremony. The model, which took six months to produce, mimics the real clinical procedure of TAVI for patients requiring aortic valve stenosis – replacement of the aortic valve of the heart through the blood vessels – with objects such as heart valves and vessels printed through 3-D technology.

Leong said the model stood out as it prepared customized aortic valves – including features such as size, shapeand the number of leaflets – according to a patient’s computed tomography (CT) images.

The model let doctors rehearse with objects that completely resembled the patient’s real heart, Leong noted.

Michael Lee Kang-yin, consultant cardiologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, added that TAVI is better than traditional open-heart surgery as the former is minimally invasive. Recovery time is shorter and the procedure could be performed on high-risk surgical patients and patients not suitable for conventional surgery.

He also noted that currently three training classes were held for 18 cardiologists and nine cardiac nurses from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, adding that further training plans for the city’s 130 to 140 cardiologists and hundreds of nurses were not yet made.

Data from the Hospital Authority shows that the number of patients with aortic valve stenosis is projected to reach 26,000 by 2020.

Lee said at present a junior cardiologist should go through 10 surgeries closely supervised by seniors before independently performing surgeries. With the help of the model, the number of supervised surgeries is expected to be reduced and junior cardiologists could gain qualifications in a shorter time.

The 3-D printing facility, occupying 620 square meters, is open to PolyU’s students and staff only. It has 50 sets of 3-D printers including low-cost ones for students and high-end ones for research and development. The printers can produce multi-color materials, create metal parts and print electronics.

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