An unlikely pairing between construction machine manufacturing  Caterpillar (CAT) and  OSF Healthcare in Illinois is helping doctors perform complex heart surgeries by modeling a patient’s heart using 3D printing.

Physicians from OSF Healthcare sought help from Caterpillar after a chance encounter between Matthew Bramlet, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital of Illinois, and a Caterpillar engineer who worked in 3D printing, Bramlet told Design News. The two met during a pediatric residency event that the engineer’s wife was attending. Both companies are headquartered in Peoria, Ill.

After a number of conversations about shared objectives around 3D-printing challenges, Bramlet and the engineer realized they had complementary technologies that could be shared to further both company’s goals, he said.

“We had 3D Digital hearts which were exact replicas of patient specific anatomy,” he said. “On several occasions, the learning objective of the 3D physical model was not achievable by our in-house printers. Therefore, we reached out to CAT to utilize their specialized printers to meet the goal.”

Indeed, two years ago, Bramlet began working on the  3D Heart Library for the National Institute of Health 3D Print Exchange , which was developed in collaboration with clinicians from Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Engineers from Jump Simulation segmented and 3D-printed babies and children’s hearts to allow for surgical planning. The models are posted in an online repository of digital reproductions of human hearts through the NIH for others to see and review.

However, while Jump has 3D-printing capabilities, its technology is limited. In a recent case, surgeons benefitted from using Caterpillar’s advanced 3D printing facilities, the Additive Manufacturing Factory, for patients with complex heart problems.

The patient needed a complex heart surgery for a congenital heart defect. Engineers at Caterpillar printed a heart in a soft material that allowed doctors to create an exact replica of the heart, Bramlet said.

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