Cardiothoracic Surgery

Des Moines Register: Jeweler helps U of I surgeons by making 3-D human organs

When it comes to performing surgery on a child’s heart, University of Iowa surgeon Joseph Turek said planning the steps ahead of time is key.

CT scans offer a valuable two-dimensional image that helps doctors approximate the location of certain abnormalities.

“However, when you actually get in and start doing the operation, it doesn’t always translate,” said Turek, who specializes in pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries.

The ideal tools for Turek are three-dimensional models of specific patients’ hearts that doctors can observe from all sides, and the physician has teamed up with an unlikely partner to get them: the owner of a downtown Iowa City jewelry store.

Mark Ginsberg, the owner of M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art, has what he calls a “boutique” manufacturing facility located above his jewelry store.

Situated on the floors above his high-end jewelry retail store are two 3-D printers, and other machines that cast, weld and apply finishes.

Ginsberg has partnered with people from a variety of industries — including U of I physicians in disciplines such as otolaryngology, neurology, orthopedics and, most recently, cardiac surgery — to create whatever odds and ends they need.

On a recent visit to his shop, Ginsberg drew one such creation from his display case: a tiny, photopolymer heart. He created it for one of Turek’s young patients — he said he didn’t know the child’s name or exact age — who had a hole in one of the chambers of his or her heart. Turek said that patient was only a couple of years old.

“This way, they can hold the actual heart in their hand, the physiology of that heart, the rendering of that heart, and pregame the direction of the tools, the angle of the tools and how they’re going to attack different vessels,” Ginsberg said.

Ginsberg and his staff made the heart using one of the 3-D printers. Turek provided a CT scan of the patient’s heart, and Ginsberg translated the image into a data set he entered into the 3-D printer. Typically, Ginsberg said he would charge between $900 and $1,500 for such a rendering, but he has been making them for U of I physicians free of charge to prove they can be used in medicine.

The 3-D printer makes objects through a process called additive manufacturing — picture applying layers of paint onto a surface — which works by starting at zero and building its way up. Each layer is about the width of a piece of human hair, which allows for precise resolution, Ginsberg said.

It’s not as though U of I doctors couldn’t access this equipment without Ginsberg’s help, but they would need to order it from a company elsewhere in the country and wait longer, Turek said. They also wouldn’t be able to get the images back and forth quickly, or solve other issues that might arise, he said.

“It’s easy to get things taken care of quickly with Mark,” he said. “You just pick up the phone and give him a call.”

Asked whether he’ll have Ginsberg make more heart renderings, Turek said he already has a few patients in mind who would be good candidates. The university is lucky to have such a resource, he said, as academic settings tend not to have the high-tech fabrication abilities that Ginsberg’s studio offers.

“Most centers don’t have these capabilities and have this even as an option,” he said.

Story Source: Tara Bannow, Iowa City Press-Citizen, www.press-citizen.com