3D making a real difference for doctors — and eventually, patients

There's nothing like real-time feedback to ensure that new technologies will make a difference in the clinical environment—and ultimately, in patients' lives. So when members of Abbott's vascular R&D team create new prototypes using 3D printing, they often ask Dr. Peter Goverde to check it out and share his feedback as they further refine the designs.

As a senior vascular surgeon at ZNA Stuivenberg Hospital in Antwerp, Belgium, Goverde frequently uses Abbott's Supera Peripheral Stent System to treat patients' arteries. Over the past year, he's tested more than 10 different, newly 3D-printed delivery system handles for this self-expanding stent. The delivery system is highly complex as it simultaneously moves two components of a catheter system in opposite directions to accurately deploy the stent. The device features an ergonomically shaped handle that’s designed for surgeons’ ease of use.

When attending medical conferences, said Goverde, Abbott's R&D engineers often bring 3D-printed devices for doctors to try. "Before that, if you needed to make those parts manually, they would take you weeks," he said. "Sometimes two or three months, if they had to make a completely different delivery device. With 3D printing, a week later (or sooner) we already have a prototype. From that point of view, it was fascinating to see. Maybe make it a little wider, or shorter. They could alter the existing design on the computer and a few moments later, you had a new 3D-printed prototype."

Beyond his medical expertise, Goverde calls himself "a sort of a hobby engineer"—making him the perfect customer to share input on 3D-printed prototypes. "Every time, I’m curious how it works, what are the effects on it. The goal is to create a delivery device that is more accurate, more precise."

For Goverde, it's all about the patient connection. "Earlier studies showed the (patient) outcome is better when the stent is deployed correctly," he said. "If there is no elongation or shortening of the stent, the outcome of the treated vessel is better. That's the reason the whole thing was set up."

The vascular team uses 3D printing to fabricate models that simulate patient anatomy so doctors can evaluate new products and refine their techniques in a safe, controlled environment. Physician training is a key component of its 3D-printing strategy, said Julia Fox, who's on the vascular business's Global Market Development team. "So many people are visual learners. When you hold something in your hand, you engage with it and understand it better. Ultimately, that benefits everyone, from doctors who can perform procedures with more confidence and patients who get better care."

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