Faithful heart reproductions are created with a 3-D printer and based on the CT cardiac image of a child patient. (Hiroki Ito)

Companies in the Kansai region are using 3-D printers to create the world’s most faithful heart reproductions that will improve training for surgeons while appeasing animal rights groups, officials said.

Kyoto-based crossEffect Inc. said its cardiac models are quicker and cheaper to produce than conventional models, and are designed for practice by surgeons dealing with children with congenital heart disorders.

The touch and interior folds of the artificial hearts are carefully replicated to allow physicians to feel as if they are working with actual hearts.

The company is exploring the possibility of using the same method to replicate other internal organs.

DEVELOPED BY SMALL FIRM

On a recent day, a pink, fist-size object glistened on a metallic tray. Its wet surface felt as elastic as raw chicken, and inside, folds and thin membranes had been carefully reproduced.

The heart replica was created with a 3-D printer and based on the CT cardiac image of a child.

The patient suffers from a cardiac disorder that narrows the heart’s outlet of blood. There is also a hole in the wall of the patient’s heart between ventricles.

CrossEffect, a small business, recreated all of the details of the child’s heart with an accuracy of 0.2 millimeter.

The cardiac disorder is often treated when patients are young.

But performing heart surgery on children is trickier. Their hearts are smaller than those of adults. And the clinical conditions among children differ more greatly from those among adults.

The cardiac replica was made in hopes of enabling physicians to perform mock operations with the model to improve the accuracy of the actual surgery.

“Our model boasts the highest level of precision among similar replicas around the world,” said Masatoshi Takeda, CEO of crossEffect.

With expertise in creating samples based on 3-D image data, crossEffect in 2009 began working with the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, to develop heart reproductions made of soft resin.

Using the ink-jet printing technology of leading precision equipment maker Screen Holdings Co. in Kyoto and a new acrylic material developed by chemical product producer Kyoeisha Chemical Co. in Osaka, crossEffect devised a technique to create cardiac models with a 3-D printer.

Existing heart replicas made of resin differ greatly from actual hearts in terms of touch. They require four to five days to make and cost more than 100,000 yen ($905) each.

The 3-D printing technology eliminates the need to make molds, thereby cutting production time by more than 50 percent. Production costs can also be drastically slashed, according to crossEffect officials.

In May, crossEffect will start selling 1,000 cardiac models for patients with four common congenital heart conditions on a trial basis. Each replica will be priced at 52,500 yen, excluding tax.

The officials said they will decide on when to begin full-fledged sales of the models, as well as their market prices, after checking the results of the trial run.

The hearts of pigs and other animals are used in training for cardiac surgery at medical centers and colleges, a practice denounced by animal rights groups particularly in Europe and the United Sates.

The new human heart models are expected to replace animal hearts for training purposes.

CrossEffect intends to create models of other organs. It also plans to introduce a service that accepts orders to replicate the specific conditions of an individual’s organs.

“I want it to be common practice in the medical industry to simulate surgery in advance using models based on the patients’ own data,” Takeda said. “I will make full use of our technology to help save people’s lives.”