About “3D-printed Fetal Heart Models for Prenatal Diagnostics” project

The project aims to shorten the learning curve of diagnosing fetal heart defects mainly by OB/GYN physicians, fetal medicine specialists, but also by pediatric cardiologists dealing with fetal heart examination. Until recently, a substantial group of experts, mainly coming from pediatric cardiology, did not believe that a non-cardiologist could detect fetal heart defects successfully and they popularized a primitive screening system based on applying only selected cardiac views taken out of the context. It led to the situation when OB/GYN physicians, as primary care physicians, because it is them who examine pregnant patients, omitted a lot of anomalies. They relied on some aspects of ultrasound images, which may be a sign of a heart defect. They were not taught the patterns of individual defects because it was acknowledged that diagnosis should be given by experts, so-called fetal cardiologist (at present, there is no such medical specialty in any country, however, a group of physicians use this title). The authors of this project went a long way to understand the diagnosis of fetal heart defects studying in various centres, and they reached a conclusion that it is not as difficult as we thought earlier, and that there are some specific features constituting patterns, which allow to diagnose and classify a given anomaly in up to a few minutes. On the way, authors of 3D models comprehended that present education system is not perfect, and OB/GYN physicians are too often blamed for diagnostic failures.

Finally we understood the patterns of congenital heart defects (CHDs) only owing to 3D heart ultrasound. About 10 years ago, we believed that using this method, we could help our colleagues in diagnosis and, above all, provide patients with ultrasound scans of a better quality. However, 3D ultrasound is not much repeatable and it requires a lot of patience and a difficult learning curve from the examiner. Therefore, the authors of the project were made to change their strategy. Pediatric cardiologists are familiar with the patterns of fetal heart defects thanks to postnatal images on the basis of catherisation techniques, which is incomprehensible to a OB/GYN physician. Some of them try to explain fetal heart defects on the basis of autopsy specimens, but lack of tissue tension do not translate them into ultrasound images. Such demonstrations, which often take hours, fill the course time, but they do not have any effect on everyday work.

In that case, a few years ago we developed the conception of layered models: 3D heart printouts based on compliance with ultrasound image. Owing to the models, OB/GYN physicians, who take part in our ultrasound workshops (www.malopolskieusg.pl www.ultrasoundcracow.com), begin to understand the subject and they learn to interpret prenatal images in a simpler way. Our models also turned out to be of help in consulting patients. For instance, during our workshops in March 2016 we detected a fetal heart defect in the fetus from screening at the practical session. We had a model of this heart defect so we could thoroughly explain everything to the patient, who did not expect such diagnosis.

We also recommend links to our video material on YouTube:

Polish premiere (December 2015)

Video coverage: Fetal Heart course

International premiere during Fetal Cardio Cracow 2016 course (scheduled for 6-7 May 2016 - www.ultrasoundcracow.com)

Media coverage: