ASU students’ 3-D virtual research aid heart transplants at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

By Allie Bice, The State Press| Re-posted with Permission

Photo by Jonathan Plasencia | Courtesy photo The State PressA model of a patient

Jonathan Plasencia, an ASU biomedical engineering doctoral student and researcher at the hospital’s Cardiac 3D Print Lab, pioneered the 3D heart transplant research about a year ago and has been assisting in transplants for nearly 6 months.

“The goal of this research is to safely expand the donor pool,” Plasencia said. “If you don’t find an appropriate sized heart, the child will have problems after surgery.”

Plasencia and other researchers established a “Healthy Heart Library” of 3D reconstructed hearts using MRI and CT images in children weighing up to 99 pounds.

Researchers and surgeons at the hospital use the library of images to predict the best donor body weight to ensure the correct heart size needed for the transplant recipients.

“We help supplement the current treatment practices,” Plasencia said. “Because sometimes surgeons are on the fence about transplants.”

Plasencia said heart transplant surgeons sit with him in the lab, watch the virtual simulation, and see how the donor’s heart can virtually overlay onto a recipient’s.

Justin Ryan, an ASU alumnus and the head of the 3D lab at the hospital, said the transplant research began when a patient needed a donor heart and researchers and surgeons didn’t know what donor size to list.

“We had this very unique case that presented itself and illustrated a new use of technology to expand patients getting hearts,” Ryan said.

Ryan said they re-appropriated the virtual surgery process for that patient and figured out what size to use. Since that case, Ryan said, Plasencia has been in charge of the research.

“We don’t really have a great medical understanding of what size hearts fit patients and now we are developing a tool to help us better understand that and better treat patients,” Ryan said.

Steven Zangwill, a pediatric cardiologist at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, said the work of the ASU engineers has helped immensely.

“There are a lot of things that we look at when we get a donor offer,” Zangwill said. “We have to make the decision, ultimately between the risk of doing a transplant with this particular donor higher and the risk of turning it down, waiting and hoping we get a better offer.”

Zangwill said surgeons have the difficult task of determining whether or not a donor heart should and can be put into a recipient.

“I could have a six-month-old baby who’s listed for a heart transplant and the heart could be coming from a four-year-old child. How do we know if that heart is going to literally fit in that chest?” Zangwill said.

Zangwill said ASU engineers like Plasencia have given the surgeons more assurance in their work.

“Jonathan can actually show me what the heart would look like in that chest, to take out the heart that’s there and putting this in there using virtual 3-D reconstruction,” Zangwill said. “It actually will allow us to make an informed decision and go ahead with a transplant we might otherwise would have declined out of fear and uncertainty.”

Posted in AZBio News.