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Imagine a heart the size of a walnut, its arteries and veins as slender as spaghetti. The surrounding nerves and lymphatic vessels are the width of a few strands of hair and as fragile as wet tissue paper.

To repair the smallest hearts, surgeons must navigate this delicate and complex minefield. What's more, because anatomy varies from person to person, no two surgeries are exactly the same – even among patients with the same condition. To plan a surgery, therefore, surgeons want to learn as much as possible about the patient's unique anatomy before setting foot in the operating room.

At the Pediatric Heart Center 3D+ Program, we're harnessing the power of 3D technology to help surgeons do just that. With medical-grade 3D printing equipment and images taken with CT, MRI and ultrasound, we're able to produce accurate, exquisitely detailed models of patients' hearts. Surgeons can hold an exact replica in their hands before surgery, examining every aspect of the particular heart’s structure in order to determine the best approach to repairing it. They can even practice procedures in advance, using models printed with flexible material that can be cut and sewn like human tissue. Or they may use virtual reality and other advanced visualization technologies to see the patient's anatomy in three dimensions while planning the surgery.

UCSF is one of the few hospitals in the U.S. to offer this technology to our surgeons and patients. We also work with providers at other institutions to produce 3D models for their patients.

Although 3D applications are relatively new in medicine, experts believe the specific information they offer may benefit patients in several ways. These include:

  • Lower risk of certain errors during surgery
  • Less likely to need repeat surgeries
  • Shorter procedure times
  • Faster recoveries

These 3D models are also invaluable in helping families understand their child's heart condition and treatment options. In addition, they're used in biomedical research and to train future specialists in congenital heart disease.

The Pediatric Heart Center 3D+ Program is part of the UCSF Center for Advanced 3D+ Technologies, which was founded in 2018 by doctors from the Pediatric Heart Center and the orthopedics and radiology departments. The team includes physicians, a dedicated biomedical engineer and image processing experts.

Support Our Program

The 3D+ Program was established through a generous contribution from an anonymous donor. Our services aren't reimbursed by insurance at this time, and we need your support to continue providing lifesaving care to kids. To learn more and make a donation, please visit UCSF: The Campaign, click the "Have a Heart" button and type "PHC 3D+ Program" in the "Other Designation" field.

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    Awards & recognition

    • us news ranked in 10 specialites badge 2020-2021

      Ranked among the nation's best in 10 specialties

    • us news cardiology and heart surgery ranking badge 2020-2021

      One of the nation’s best in cardiology & heart surgery