Heartbreaking: 40% of Donated Hearts Never Get Used, but 3D Imaging Could Change That

Blood Heart CirculationWhile 3D printing has led to exciting breakthroughs in medicine and engineering in recent years, the technology has made major leaps forward in 2015. Now, an advanced 3D imaging technique could help doctors find donated hearts for pediatric transplant patients much more quickly.

MedPage Today reports that 40% of donated hearts in the U.S. never get used, because doctors worry about a potential size mismatch. And sadly, that’s one reason one in three patients waiting for a transplant will die waiting for a match. At a recent conference of the American Heart Association, Arizona State University in Tempe researchers showed off a 3D imaging technique that could help solve this problem for good.

Doctors have few tools for knowing whether a donor heart will be the right size for their young patients. If the heart is too large or too small for the patient’s thoracic cavity, the transplant will have to be cancelled. At present, doctors have to compare the patient and donor’s body-weight ratio; only hearts within the “ideal” range of ratios will be a match. Unfortunately, it’s not always a reliable method.

The Arizona researchers are using CT and MRI 3D imaging to create a virtual reconstruction of the heart, a “virtual transplant.” The researchers are now creating a healthy heart library that contains 3D images of available hearts. By taking CT and MRI scans of the patient, doctors can perform a virtual transplant to better find matches.

Although the technology and library are still being developed, it’s a concept that could help young people waiting for heart transplants find a donor in time.

Other 3D imaging techniques are being used for a variety of applications in 2015, from industrial quality control to dentistry. The Healthy Heart Library could be a peek into the medicine of the future, according to Dr. Janet Scheel, the medical director of transplantation at the Children’s National Health System in Washington.

“This kind of a library may allow us to say ‘OK, we have a kid with a 7-cm heart, we could safely take a much bigger donor,'” she said. “The ultimate goal would be to maximize the use of our donors, because there’s definitely viable donors that we don’t use because we can’t match them, so this could be one more way to do it.”