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CBS drama ‘Pure Genius’ leverages real-world technology from ASU

CBS drama ‘Pure Genius’ leverages real-world technology from ASU

Justin Ryan, postdoctoral researcher, Image Processing Applications Laboratory and Researcher, Cardiac 3D Print Lab at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, examines a 3D printed heart. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU.


Partnership between ASU, Phoenix Children’s Hospital helps make strides with 3D printed hearts as surgical models

The solution to a fraught moment in the first episode of the new CBS medical drama “Pure Genius” came from a real-world technology that has been advancing thanks in part to a collaboration between Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Arizona State University: 3D printed hearts.  

At least twice a week, surgeons at the hospital use the devices as they try to save lives, according to university and hospital statistics. Surgeons use the replicas to plan the best ways to fix any number of defects, before they cut into a patient.  

It’s a relatively recent development. The journey to the Cardiac 3D Print Lab began in 2010 when David Frakes, an ASU engineering professor, started recruiting art majors to join the Image Processing Applications Lab.

He had a hunch that art and design students would be able to see technological possibilities that medical students couldn’t.  

Enter Justin Ryan, then an undergraduate majoring in digital art at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — who happened to have an aptitude for science.

“David convinced enough people that as long as I passed my graduate exam, I should be admitted to the biomedical engineering graduate program,” Ryan joked.

Today, Ryan, an ASU postdoctoral researcher, runs the Cardiac 3D Print Lab, leaning heavily on his background in 3D modeling for computer animation, which can be directly leveraged for 3D medical printing.   

Although 3D medical printing wasn’t new, it also wasn’t something doctors could use to save heart patients, such as patients with rare tumors, as depicted on “Pure Genius.”

Doctors often need a 3D printed heart in a matter of hours, at the time the process took weeks.

By concentrating on workflow and borrowing a 3D printer from an architecture firm to print hearts as training tools for medical students, Ryan and his team got the printing time down to two days, “but what we needed was same-day turnaround.”

The turning point came in 2012 when a grant from the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Leadership Circle funded the purchase of a 3D printer for the hospital.

“Having the printer at the hospital meant we were right next door,” Ryan said. “The surgeon could look at the images and make multiple adjustments, and then we could print it once.”

The majority of 3D hearts are used for children’s cases, but the lab also produces for adult patients at other Valley hospitals, including a 92-year-old, Ryan said.

The technology isn’t limited to hearts, Ryan said. Early trials are underway that involve skin cells. Researchers are hopeful are to experiment with livers. And 3D printed bone could be possible for cancer patients.   

Ryan estimates it will be about 25 years before the technology advances to the point that 3D hearts can be transplanted into patients. But parts, such as heart valves, may be ready in the next five years. Implantable devices, including stents and clips, will likely be available sooner.

In addition to 3D hearts, the lab prints other surgical aids, including a variety of tumors.

“Not only does the print inform the surgeon prior to surgery, it helps a child conceptualize what the tumor actually looks like,” Ryan said. “After surgery, we give the patient a 3D print of the tumor and let him or her smash it.”

The technology, meanwhile, also helped a fictional cardiothoracic surgeon at a Silicon Valley hospital conceptualize the best course of action to save a life, merging the art of TV production with the science of high-tech medicine. 

3D printed hearts, developed collaboratively by ASU's Image Processing Applications Lab and Phoenix Children's hospital,  are used to save lives in the Phoenix area twice a week. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU.

3D printed hearts, developed collaboratively by ASU’s Image Processing Applications Lab and Phoenix Children’s hospital, are used to save lives in the Phoenix area twice a week. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU.

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