"With 3D printing, surgeons can make better decisions before they go into the operating room. The more prepared they are, the better decisions they make, and the fewer surprises that they encounter," said Matthew Bramlet, assistant professor and director of the Congenital Heart Disease MRI Programme at the University of Illinois.

Researchers created 3D heart models of a nine-month-old girl, three-year-old boy and a woman in her 20s all of whom had complex congenital heart defects.

After studying the models and traditional images, surgeons successfully repaired severe heart abnormalities in all three patients.

Currently, most heart surgeons use 2D images taken by X-ray, ultrasound and MRI for surgical planning.

However, these images may not reveal complex structural complications in the heart's chambers that occur when heart disease is present at birth (congenital heart defects), as opposed to developing later in life within a structurally normal heart.

The research was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014 recently.

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