The University of Minnesota Visible Heart® Lab is at the forefront of improving our understanding of how the human heart works by characterizing functional and static anatomies of normal and diseased specimens. In recent years, this has expanded from visualization of reanimated hearts to include multimodal imaging, 3D modeling and 3D printing. The lab’s human heart library has grown to contain over 400 specimens, which can be visited and studied by any student, academician, clinician or industry researcher upon request.
Dr. Paul Iaizzo has headed the Visible Heart Lab® at the University of Minnesota since 1990. The Lab has a focus of translational systems physiology and enjoys a strong research collaboration with Medtronic. It also focuses on outreach education.
Beginning in 1996, Dr. Iaizzo and his team have been reanimating large mammalian isolated heart models. This includes the reanimation of 75 human hearts to date. These hearts are recovered from organ donors that were deemed not viable for transplant, and then gifted for research and procured via LifeSource in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The first several hours of reanimation are dedicated to collecting unique multimodal images of functional cardiac anatomy throughout the heart. Subsequently, all images and videos are made available on the free-access website, the Atlas of Human Cardiac Anatomy. In addition, the website provides educational tutorials, MRI and CT DICOM files and 3D models. The result is an educational tool second to none for identifying and understanding cardiac structures.
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3D printing has played a vital role in the development of the Visible Heart® Lab’s outreach and educational mission. 3D printed models have been presented at various scientific meetings around the world and given to physicians in order to aid in patient education. The group also uses 3D printing capabilities to enlarge specific structures to better understand complex anatomies, which is particularly important in many clinical pediatric cases. Every student trained within the Visible Heart® Lab has an opportunity to develop 3D models of heart specimens, 3D print models, and even take the time to hand paint the detailed cardiac structures. These steps serve to uniquely enhance the students’ understanding of the nuances of human cardiac anatomy.
Dr. Iaizzo believes that these 3D printed heart models are amazing educational tools, and the students at the lab are given the opportunity to learn the entire process, from scanning hearts and making digital models to using the 3D printing software and finally painting the finished models.