Researchers recently demonstrated a new kind of personalized heart sensor as part of an effort to change that. The researchers used images of animals’ hearts to create models of the organ using a 3-D printer. Then they built stretchy electronics on top of those models. The stretchy material can be peeled off the printed model and wrapped around the real heart for a perfect fit.
Essentially what they are doing is what we have been doing in dentistry for decades. That is taking an impression of a body part and fabricating a customized device to fit it exactly.
In the pre-digital past we needed to take physical impressions, create physical models and fabricate physical devices with wax and metal. The digital present allows us to do the same thing with a digital scan, virtual models and devices fabricated with mills or printers.
This evokes one of my favorite high tech themes; “A horse is not merely a faster car.” A digital impression is not merely a faster alginate. A digital impression is to PVS as word processing is to typing.
What makes the heart implant so amazing is that the impression is taken with a scanning device outside the body. In theory we could have cracked the chest, enclosed the heart in alginate, poured a model and made the implant sensor like we used to make a partial denture. But of course that was impractical and foolish. Digital methods make it both possible and sensible.
The development of new methods to capture digital data that can be converted to virtual models coupled with the incredible advancements in printing* will soon lead to treatment options we cannot yet even imagine. The future is coming and it will be amazing!
*The term 3D printer is too pedestrian. It evokes images of plastic geegaws. Printing now includes metal and even biologic material.