Australian scientists have used 3D printers to model human arteries in a development which is expected to help in avoiding severe heart conditions.


Cardiologists collaborated with the University of Melbourne doctors and engineers to develop a method of 3D printing individual arteries, using a camera thinner than a human hair.

The images are processed by a supercomputer which maps the arteries, and they are then printed in 3D for doctors to analyze.

It gives important data on the blood flow behavior and the structure of the artery from the inside, allowing the cardiologists to make decisions about the best stent to insert.

The technique can also identify hot spots for plaque, the waxy substance that builds up in arteries and leads to heart disease.

University of Melbourne associate professor Peter Barlis said: "Using our ultrasensitive heart scans combined with models derived using supercomputers, we are now able to print out segments of the patient’s arteries and hope to tailor devices to fit them perfectly.

"We ideally want to use models to predict the best type of stent for a patient. Once this process is streamlined, we can have a patient on the table and an artery 3D printed and modeled to guide the procedure."

"Using a super-high resolution camera, known as optical coherence tomography (OCT), to scan the insides of the heart arteries has made it easier to image cholesterol plaques, but it still isn’t clear which of these plaques will go on to cause heart attacks.

Barlis noted that if the high-risk plaques are identified more accurately and much earlier, there are chances of avoiding heart attacks prior to their occurrence.

University of Melbourne researcher Vikas Thondapu said that the team intends to predict the potential future development of high-risk plaques using blood flow patterns and disturbances.

Currently, the researchers are working to identify a biocompatible polymer to 3D print heart stents to match a person’s physical makeup.

They are also focusing in new polymers that will enable the stent to slowly disintegrate over time with the capacity to provide drugs directly to the location of the plaque.

The research program is being supported by Imperial College in London and Harvard University in Boston.

Separately, an international team led by Australian researchers studied the genetics of pancreatic cancer and revealed that it is actually four separate diseases, with new treatment possibilities.

Image: The University of Melbourne associate professor Peter Barlis holds a 3D printed artery. Photo: courtesy of The University of Melbourne.