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How a 2-week-old baby was saved by 3D printing

Surgeons at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in New York City successfully performed complicated heart surgery on a 2-week-old baby and have praised the role played by 3D printing.

Using data from MRI scans, surgeons printed a 3D model of the child's heart which allowed them to study the organ before the operation and devise a detailed strategy.

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Dr. Emile Bacha, who performed the surgery, said, "The baby's heart had holes, which are not uncommon with CHD (coronary heart disease), but the heart chambers were also in an unusual formation, rather like a maze.

"In the past we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique, it was like we had a road map to guide us. We were able to repair the baby's heart with one operation."

This is not the first time the US has utilised pioneering medical technology. Recently, Kentucky surgeon Erle Austin also used a 3D print-out of a child's heart to inform his approach to surgery.

Read more: NASA to use 3D printing on International Space Station

"If I went in and did surgery, took off the front of the heart and did irreparable damage, the child would not survive," he said.

"Because I have an identical reconstruction I can take off the front of the heart and see inside of it and make a plan as to how I'm going to direct the flow of blood and move the obstruction in the heart."

The NHS is also exploring the role that 3D printing can play in modern medicine, specifically in hip replacement surgery through a partnership with Wiltshire-based company Replica 3DM.

The 3D printing firm has supplied manufacturing stations designed to create replica hips to 12 NHS Trust hospitals, enabling surgeons to carry out practice operations.