Words in this Story cardiac– adj. of or relating to the heart CAT scan – n. a picture of the inside of a part of your body that is made by a computerized machine defect – n. a problem or fault that makes someone or something not perfect MRI – n. magnetic resonance imaging; a method used to produce images of the inside of a person's body by means of a strong magnetic field
Researchers are now using three-dimensional, or 3D printing to create models of the human heart to help heart specialists. The heart doctors can use the models to better help patients before an operation. Surgeons regularly use digital images to explore the heart in close detail. But no two human hearts are alike. This led Matthew Bramlet to create exact heart models from those images. Dr. Bramlet is a pediatric or children’s heart expert at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. He says the 3-D models show information he cannot get any other way.
“Even when I will take the MRI and render the images, even a print heart that is sort of spinning on the screen, it’s still a 2-D screen. And so what we’ve done with the printed models, we've pulled it out of the screen so that you can actually hold it in your hand and evaluate the anatomy for the first time in a manner that makes sense and is logical.”
A 3-D printer uses images from a digital display to create a physical model of a human heart. Matthew Bramlet says doctors can use the model, in his words, "to understand the anatomy for the first time.”
3D-printed model adds new dimension to heart surgery, allowing surgeons to see defects that might not be readily apparent in digital images. (James Carlson, Saint Francis Medical Center)
Pictures from medical tests like CAT scan or MRI are sent to a 3-D printer to create a heart in a plaster or clay form. The printer then constructs the heart, thin layer by thin layer. Dr. Bramlet says the model matches the real heart in every detail. “When we’re done with the model and made our decision, we want to be able to go back to the source image and confirm those findings,” he says.
Dr. Bramlet has built model hearts for different kinds of heart operations. All of the operations were successful. In his first case, digital images showed only one tiny hole in a baby’s heart. But, the 3-D printed model showed several defects or problems that the baby was born with. Dr. Bramlet says those defects could not be seen easily in the images.
The heart surgeon was able to change the type of surgery for the patient based on the 3-D model. He added that 3-D heart models saves time during heart operations.
“In the future, relying on that information would allow us to not even have to stop the heart to sort of go down the alternative pathway.”
Kathy Magliato is a cardiac surgeon at Saint John’s Health Center in Los Angeles. She welcomes the new technology. She says it could help her make better decisions before she operates on the hearts of her patients.
“The fact that I can then take this very complicated structure, which has endless possibilities of what it could look like anatomically when I open the body, and you give it to me before the operation and I can hold it in my hand and plan an operation around what I’m seeing, touching and feeling. That to me is what can potentially change the game in an operation and save lives.”
Matthew Bramlet continues to research the technology. He is working with the National Institutes of Health to build a 3-D library that includes heart models and images that others can use.
1. Why are researchers using three-dimensional, or 3D printing now? 2. What do surgeons regularly use to explore the heart in close detail? 3. What are MRI sent to a 3-D printer to? 4. Who is working with the National Institutes of Health? al effort to stop the Ebola outbreak say the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies did not react fast enough.
That leads people to wonder how WHO and local health organizations will deal with the Zika virus. There is not yet a vaccine for Zika. Mosquitos spread the virus to human beings.
So far, Brazil is the country most affected by the virus. Health organizations think Zika might be directly linked to microcephaly, a condition linked to incomplete brain development. There could be 4,000 cases of Zika-related microcephaly in Brazil. Babies with the birth defect have an unusually small head. Children with severe microcephaly often do not live long.
There is already one difference between Zika and Ebola. The WHO already declared Zika virus a global health emergency. Governments around the world are taking steps to guard against the disease.
In the UniTed States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says there are more than 50 cases of the disease nationwide. All are connected to people who recently traveled overseas. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve $1.8 billion in government spending to fight Zika. The money would go to the CDC and other health organizations in the U.S.
Experts say the funding is a good start. But it is only the beginning. Financial resources are important for fighting viruses and diseases. Lawrence Gostin is a law professor at Georgetown University who specializes in public health. He says funding for research and disease containment is important for making sure the world is safe.
“Next time we might not be so fortunate as to have something we can contain,” he said. Tom Frieden is the director of the CDC. He said there still is work to be done in the way the world handles health problems.
“We need to build the systems around the world to find things when they first emerge, to stop them rapidly, and to prevent them whenever that's possible.” One way to be prepared is to enlist drug companies to help in the fight.
The Reuters news agency reports that major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Merck and Johnson and Johnson are evaluating their technology and existing vaccines to see if they can help fight Zika. Dr. Julie Gerberding is the president of Merck. She says the big drug companies can develop and manufacture vaccines for a large number of people in a short amount of time.
“We are necessary,” she says. Non-governmental organizations “cannot develop vaccines and manufacture them to the kind of scale that we need.” I’m Dan Friedell.
Carol Pearson wrote this story for VOANews.com. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor. How do you think the world will handle future health scares? Write to us in the Comments section or on our Facebook page.