In a lab on the third floor of UCF’s Biological Sciences building, the buzzing of a 3-D printer fills the room. On the small machine sits an unidentifiable object, made of red and blue plastic. In several hours, it will be a 3-D model of a human heart.
The lab belongs to Dr. Dinender Singla, a professor at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences and a cardiovascular disease researcher.
With the help of several students, Singla is using technology to evolve medicine and science.
In his stem cell biology class, which he teaches every spring, Singla told his students that stem cells are old news. His new idea, which involved the 3-D printer, was the next big thing. When students started to show interest in his idea, the project took off.
“I always believe that we need to do something different, something new which can benefit the patient, or the community at large,” said Singla, who has been working with stem cells for 15 years.
The team started from scratch, performing all their own research about 3-D printing. When they started they knew nothing about it, but as a student-led project they soon figured it out.
The models, which will soon be created to model patient-specific hearts, will allow doctors to get a more concise view of the issue, and form a more precise surgical plan. Right now, the only things surgeons have to reference prior to surgery are 2-D, black and white MRI’s or CT scans.
“With this, they (the doctors) can basically have a tangible object that they can visualize exactly where deformation is,” said Kaley Garner, one of the students on the project.
While the project will help doctors do their job, Singla said the technology will do a lot more.
“This will change completely not only doctor’s surgery life, it will change patient life,” Singla said. “It will change the education and research scenario. On top of that, it will change the economic burden of hospitals and the state, and ultimately on the country.”
This small, palm-sized plastic model will make make a huge difference.
“If we generate a heart where we can find the disease where it is accurately placed, surgeons can decrease the time eight hours to seven hours or six hours. This way they know what they are operating. It will increase the accuracy," Singla said.
Decreasing surgery time will decrease the time patients are hospital-bound and decrease the total cost of the operation. That, in turn, decreases the economic burden for the hospital.
Additionally, having a palpable model case-specific to patients will allow doctors to better explain procedures to those undergoing surgery, and to their families.
“The surgeon can take the model to the parents and say ‘this is how we’re going do it’, and it increases their level of comfort,” Garner said.
Also assisting in the lab is Reetish Singla, Dr. Singla’s son and a senior at Hagerty High School in Oviedo.
With plans to attend UCF in the fall, Reetish has set his sights on becoming a surgeon. Working on the project has allowed him to get a head start and get in on the forefront of medical technology.
“I love to incorporate new technologies into what I do,” Reetish Singla said. “I can use this technology to help show the patients what’s going on, what’s wrong, where the problem lies, and specifically how the problem will be fixed."
In the future, these models can also be used for educational purposes.
Professors who are limited to standard models will be able to demonstrate to their classes what specific defects look like. Medical students, who are the next generation of surgeons, will be able to learn directly from the models as well.
The models, printed with two different colors to differentiate between normal and diseased areas, are formulated with softwares and algorithms that develop 3-D images from the MRIs, CT scans and X-rays.
After three to five hours, a model heart comes fresh off the printer ready to change medicine.