3D printed hearts help medical students

3D printing has revolutionised the healthcare industry and continues to evolve day by day. Dr Tegan Cheng, Biomedical Engineer, Scientist and Group Leader of the EPIC Lab in Kids Research is one of the people leading this revolution.

A couple of years ago, Dr Cheng discussed with Associate Professor Karen Scott, Medical Educator at Sydney Medical School and Associate Professor Hasantha Gunasekera, Clinical Academic Paediatrician, the idea of printing 3D heart models that enabled medical students to study congenital heart deformity. At the time, medical students in paediatric cardiopathology workshops relied on preserved congenital heart disease examples to study the heart but with more and more research showing 3D printing was improving educational outcomes, Dr Cheng decided to challenge the norm. 

Wanting to understand why 3D printing could make such a difference to education, Dr Cheng embarked on a study of her own called the 3D Heart Study. Using CT scans of congenital heart disease examples and the 3D printer in the EPIC Lab, Dr Cheng created a 3D model of the heart so she could compare how students learned with the 3D hearts versus the preserved heart samples. 

Over a series of workshops, medical students were given both the 3D printed hearts and the originals as part of their session. Dr Cheng observed how each of the students interacted with both hearts on the table and which heart would students gravitate towards more.

“We set up cameras and filmed the medical students as they used the 3D hearts and we analysed the vision to track the hearts to see which were picked up more, how much they would move around the table and which heart was being poked and prodded more,” said Dr Cheng.

With 3D hearts proving an overwhelming success, Dr Cheng and the EPIC Lab team began work with A/Prof Scott, A/Prof Gunasekera, Dr Jack Luxford, a paediatric trainee at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW), and University of Sydney academics to expand the paediatric cardiopathology workshop. 

The group collaborated with students from Design Computing at University of Sydney to design an online module that guides and explains the irregularities and highlights all the important anatomical details to look for.  Each heart was printed with the highest level of detail and that pushed the printers to their limits.

“The facilitator of this module can put the 3D heart down on the table and instruct students to open this link and it will take them through four heart case studies and an opportunity to explore the 3D heart."

"The students loved the module so much, it has been rolled out to Dubbo, Lismore and Orange thanks to a small University of Sydney grant we received. This is great for these local communities who don’t necessarily have the specialists or specimens available,” Dr Cheng said.

The value of the new module cannot be disputed, with medical students ranking it as the number one module they've completed during their training at CHW.  

The 3D hearts are now officially integrated into the second and third year medical students’ program at CHW as part of their Back to Basics and Child and Adolescent Health teaching, which involves approximately 600 students every year.  Due to the hearts being readily producible, they are also offered to students placed in regional hospitals for the first time ever.

Special thanks to Hyundai Help for Kids for their ongoing support of the EPIC lab and innovative research projects just like this.