Latest feat for TGH's 3D printers: Helping doctors communicate with patients

Tampa General Hospital has many specialties, but some special technology in a lab there is getting noticed worldwide.

"It’s the same tools we use to make movies and video games, but we’re applying them to human medicine," explained Dr. Summer Decker. 

Early in the pandemic, Decker and her colleagues invented nasal swabs made with their 3D printers. They’re now used in 56 countries.

"Once we came up with a solution and we showed it worked, we were obligated to share this with the world and that’s what we did," Decker continued. 

A 3D-printed model of a heart, illustrating a defect.

The new printers are getting even better. They start with a normal CT scan, then use the 3D printer to create an exact model of an organ. 

"Explaining to a patient that they have a defect in their heart is one thing, but when you can pull up an exact replica of their heart and show them the defect, I think it gives more understanding of the problem the patient has," offered Dr. Krishna Nallamshetty.

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The lab is one of only a handful in the nation with this technology. USF Health-Tampa General Hospital started when it was new, 10 years ago. They’re now consulting doctors across the country.

Dr. Krishna Nallamshetty explains benefits of the 3D-printed organ model.

Next year, administrators plan to move the lab to a larger, more visible space in the hospital to give doctors and patients a better look.  They say we’re seeing just the beginning. 

"The next thing we’ll be looking at is bio-printing where you can actually print organs or parts of organs and use them on patients," said Decker. 

She predicts the lab that sent nasal swabs to the world will continue to lead the way in 3D printer technology.