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With the help of 3D printing, an intricate plastic replica of a patient’s heart can be created, allowing surgeons to study in advance of an operation.
With the help of 3D printing, an intricate plastic replica of a patient’s heart can be created, allowing surgeons to study in advance of an operation.

Good heart health relies on many factors, such as diet and physical activity. But when our hearts need extra help, medical advances made possible by plastics can help deliver the often life-saving medical care. Here are five remarkable new heart health innovations made possible by plastics.

Plastic patch

Researchers are developing a flexible plastic patch that can help repair the damaged tissue caused by heart attacks. Since the patch doesn’t require stitches, it’s less invasive and potentially less damaging to the heart than other surgical methods.

The patch is still undergoing testing, but researchers predict that it may one day help prevent arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and even aid in regenerating damaged heart tissue.

Dissolving stent

Heart surgeons have long treated blockages by implanting a stent—a device that expands a coronary artery and restores blood flow. However, either the patient has to go through another surgery to remove the stent, or the artery remains expanded permanently, which may not be ideal for a patient long-term.

Thanks to medical plastics that dissolve over time, recently FDA-approved advanced stents do their job and then are adsorbed into the body—potentially improving quality of life for heart patients.

Heart in a box

The primary method for transporting donor hearts is pretty simple: the organ is put on ice in an insulated container.

The longer it remains outside a human body, the increased likelihood the tissue will become damaged. A new plastic-based device known as “heart in a box” may change all that.

This technology lets a donor heart continue beating, essentially keeping it “alive” from the time it’s removed from the donor to the time it’s transplanted. Researchers said the “heart in a box” could dramatically increase the availability of donor hearts.

3D printing

Why is 3D printing with plastics so revolutionary? In large part because it enables technicians in a range of industries to quickly and easily create fully customizable 3D models.

What if technicians could apply that technology to create an intricate plastic replica of a patient’s heart that surgeons could study in advance of an operation? It’s already happening. Surgeons today can use the plastic model to plan out details of the procedure before it even begins, reducing risk for the patient.

Inflatable implant

Heart surgeons often face a frustrating irony: sometimes the sick patients—who need surgery—have been so weakened by their condition that surgery becomes too risky. But a new inflatable, balloon-like device made with plastics is helping improve the odds.

After the device is implanted, doctors can inflate or deflate it as needed to control excess blood flow and relieve pressure on the heart. This technique can give a heart the chance to recover enough to withstand surgery.

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