NEWS | March 3, 2016

3-D heart model assists UC Davis Pediatric Heart Center surgeons


When UC Davis Pediatric Heart Center surgeons faced a complex patient case in January, they consulted with cardiologists, pediatric intensive care unit physicians, radiologists, and, for the first time, biomedical engineers.  The engineers added a new technology to the clinical care toolkit: a three-dimensional printer that could be used to create a model of the patient's complex heart anatomy.

Photo of Gary Raff with 3-D heart model
Gary Raff, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at UC Davis Children's Hospital, holds the three-dimensional heart model.

With images based on the patient’s high-resolution CT (computed tomography) scans and transthoracic echocardiograms, UC Davis engineers printed a heart model that enabled surgeons to clearly see an obstruction in the outflow from two ventricles. For pediatric heart surgeon Gary Raff, the model was the key in helping him determine the best surgical course to take. In this particular case, it was an aortic translocation, a resection (or removal) of the obstruction under the pulmonic valves and aortic valves.

“We have started utilizing some 3-D modeling of the more challenging congenital heart patients we care for,” said Raff, who serves as chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at the heart center. “This is a tremendous resource and a unique one, something that could only have happened with the collaboration between the Davis campus and the medical center. It can really help save lives.”

This new printer technology was made possible by a Biomedical Engineering group called TEAM (Translating Engineering Advances to Medicine).  Its Design, Prototyping and Fabrication Facilities provide design assistance and inexpensive rapid prototyping techniques from its laboratory on the Davis campus.

Kyriacos Athanasiou, professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedic surgery at UC Davis and TEAM's director, noted that TEAM allows them to design and engineer complex surgical approaches.

"We first embarked on surgical pre-planning in the veterinary population several years ago and then began translating its success to human patients,” said Athanasiou. “We are excited to be able to help surgeons visualize and even practice on 3-D printed models. This kind of pre-surgical planning not only has the potential to yield new solutions but can also shorten the time patients spend in surgery.”

The UC Davis TEAM speeds up the adoption and commercialization of newly developed technologies,  and its prototyping lab features many of the industry’s most advanced technologies in the fields of 3-D printing, 3-D scanning, printed circuit board manufacturing, laser machining and software.

UC Davis Children's Hospital is the Sacramento region's only nationally ranked, comprehensive hospital for children, serving infants, children, adolescents and young adults with primary, subspecialty and critical care. It includes the Central Valley's only pediatric emergency department and Level I pediatric trauma center, which offers the highest level of care for critically ill children. The 120-bed children's hospital includes the state-of-the-art 49-bed neonatal and 24-bed pediatric intensive care and pediatric cardiac intensive care units. With more than 120 physicians in more than 30 subspecialties, UC Davis Children's Hospital has more than 74,000 clinic and hospital visits and 13,000 emergency department visits each year. For more information, visit