Research Article: Method to simulate distal flow resistance in coronary arteries in 3D printed patient specific coronary models

Date Published: August 6, 2020

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

Author(s): Kelsey N. Sommer, Vijay Iyer, Kanako Kunishima Kumamaru, Ryan A. Rava, Ciprian N. Ionita.


Three-dimensional printing (3DP) offers a unique opportunity to build flexible vascular patient-specific coronary models for device testing, treatment planning, and physiological simulations. By optimizing the 3DP design to replicate the geometrical and mechanical properties of healthy and diseased arteries, we may improve the relevance of using such models to simulate the hemodynamics of coronary disease. We developed a method to build 3DP patient specific coronary phantoms, which maintain a significant part of the coronary tree, while preserving geometrical accuracy of the atherosclerotic plaques and allows for an adjustable hydraulic resistance.

Coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) data was used within Vitrea (Vital Images, Minnetonka, MN) cardiac analysis application for automatic segmentation of the aortic root, Left Anterior Descending (LAD), Left Circumflex (LCX), Right Coronary Artery (RCA), and calcifications. Stereolithographic (STL) files of the vasculature and calcium were imported into Autodesk Meshmixer for 3D model optimization. A base with three chambers was built and interfaced with the phantom to allow fluid collection and independent distal resistance adjustment of the RCA, LAD and LCX and branching arteries. For the 3DP we used Agilus for the arterial wall, VeroClear for the base and a Vero blend for the calcifications, respectively. Each chamber outlet allowed interface with catheters of varying lengths and diameters for simulation of hydraulic resistance of both normal and hyperemic coronary flow conditions. To demonstrate the manufacturing approach appropriateness, models were tested in flow experiments.

Models were used successfully in flow experiments to simulate normal and hyperemic flow conditions. The inherent mean resistance of the chamber for the LAD, LCX, and RCA, were 1671, 1820, and 591 (dynes ∙ sec/ cm5), respectively. This was negligible when compared with estimates in humans, with the chamber resistance equating to 0.65–5.86%, 1.23–6.86%, and 0.05–1.67% of the coronary resistance for the LAD, LCX, and RCA, respectively at varying flow rates and activity states. Therefore, the chamber served as a means to simulate the compliance of the distal coronary trees and to allow facile coupling with a set of known resistance catheters to simulate various physical activity levels.

We have developed a method to create complex 3D printed patient specific coronary models derived from CCTA, which allow adjustable distal capillary bed resistances. This manufacturing approach permits comprehensive coronary model development which may be used for physiologically relevant flow simulations.

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Three-dimensional printing (3DP) offers a unique opportunity to build geometrically accurate patient-specific vascular phantoms that can be used for device testing [1, 2], treatment planning [3], resident physician training [4] and physiological simulations [5, 6]. Recent literature has highlighted the advancements in additive and subtractive manufacturing that allow physicians to train and plan for procedures using patient specific phantoms [6–14]. Use of these phantoms to practice various approaches has shown promise as a method to improve clinical interventional outcomes and reduce the risk of periprocedural complications. Patient specific vascular phantoms fabricated via additive manufacturing can be used to visualize complex anatomies and create models for mock device deployment. Previous investigations [15–18] used phantoms from stiff photopolymers that lack compliance of arteries vital for device placement. To capture the flexible and compliant nature of the arteries, other investigators have followed similar approaches by fabricating a stiff 3D printed cast for silicone or polyurethane injection molding [19–24].

The workflow we developed for this project is shown in Fig. 1. Five patients with coronary artery disease were used for this study from a data set of 75 acquisitions using the volumes with the least motion and blooming artifacts. Each patient underwent clinically indicated first generation 320-detector row CCTA (Aquilion ONE, Canon Medical Systems, Tustin, CA) with 0.5 mm slice thickness, automated tube current modulation, 100 kVp, and a reconstructed voxel size of 0.625 × 0.625 × 0.5 mm. Patient CCTA data was used within Vitrea (Vital Images, Minnetonka, MN) cardiac analysis application by expert users (fellows, surgeons, CT technicians) for automatic segmentation of the aortic root, Left Anterior Descending (LAD), Left Circumflex (LCX), and Right Coronary Artery (RCA) (Fig. 1a). The three main coronary arteries and branches were manually selected and included in the vascular segmentation using the select “artery tool”. The calcification was segmented separately from the vasculature through the “organ selection tool”, (Fig. 2a), and contrast thresholding was used to control inclusion of the entire plaque volume. To improve the accuracy of the calcification volume, we manually adjusted the segmentation contours in the CT slices, (Fig. 2b). The user spent between 20 min and 1 h on the anatomy segmentation, depending on the severity of the stenosis in the vasculature. Next, the vasculature and calcification segmented volumes were exported as separate stereolithographic files (STL) (Fig. 2c) [30].
Fig. 1Model development process. a CCTA scans of the heart tissue and the three main coronary arteries were imported into Vital Images cardiac analysis application. The coronary arteries were segmented separately from the calcification using thresholding and contouring methods. b A stereolithographic [30] file was exported from Vital Images and imported into Autodesk Meshmixer and segmentation errors were removed. c Cylindrical meshes were appended to the aortic root and the diseased coronary artery for future pressure sensor connections. d The aortic root was extended at both the inlet and the outlet. e Vessel branches were extended through each of the three chambers and a plane cut was administered at the vessel outlets for parallel ends. f A 2 mm wall was generated and the lumen was hollowed out. g The calcification was solidified and subtracted from the vasculature. h A three-chamber support structure was imported into Autodesk Meshmixer. i Then model and support structure are aligned and ready to be printed. j The model is 3D printed, cleaned, and ready to be attached to a flow loopFig. 2Calcification design. a The calcifications were segmented from Vitrea (Vital Images) separately from the rest of the coronary arteries using a rough segmentation. b Next, an expert user inspected and adjusted the contours in all three planes for every plaque. c Shows the overview of the plaques and enlarged details after the STLs geometries were imported into MeshMixer (e) Shows the top view of model. The dotted circle indicate the location of the plaques

We created five 3D printed patient specific models for this research, including the three chambered support design. The estimated mean times to build each 3D printed multi-material model were as follows: 30 min for segmentation, 1.5 h for model design, 60 min for chamber design, 24 h to print one tray of five models.

This paper describes the development of a method to create comprehensive 3D printed patient specific coronary models derived from CCTA. These models give us the ability to replicate the geometry of arteries with submillimeter accuracies while providing means to control distal flow conditions [29]. Using the proposed three chamber outlet system, we can control separately the distal resistance of each coronary tree subsection and adjust within human relevant ranges. The addition of the catheters of varying resistances allowed for simulation of the capillary beds that is not currently possible using 3D printing technology. The resistance of the chamber proved to be negligible, with the chamber resistance equating to 0.65–5.86%, 1.23–6.86%, and 0.05–1.67% of the coronary resistance for the LAD, LCX, and RCA, respectively, at flow rates within typical rest to moderate physical activity. It can be concluded based on these results that the chamber did not add significant distal resistances to the three individual coronary arteries, while serving its purpose as a compliance chamber to each of the LAD, LCX, and RCA trees. This deems importance as catheters of varying sizes were inserted into the benchtop set up to function as structures simulating the specific distal resistance of each coronary artery.

We have developed a method to create comprehensive 3D printed patient specific coronary models derived from CCTA to replicate the hemodynamics in the arteries. With these models, we have the capability of controlling distal flow conditions using a three-chamber outlet system in which each main coronary artery and its corresponding branches are adjusted individually. Our results present an innovative method in which geometric modeling as well as physiologically accurate blood flow conditions are able to be met in this coronary vascular modelling system. Through the use of 3DP, we were able to create patient specific coronary benchtop models with geometrically accurate coronary arteries with the addition of a compliance chamber and distal coronary artery resistance components simulating the capillary beds.




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