_TECHNOLOGY manufacturing

_A Hand on Your Heart

What if you could hold your own heart in the palm of your hand and study it while your cardiologist explained your condition?

_Jason Kirk

Kirk is a research assistant and adjunct professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.

Imagine running your finger along the squiggly pattern of the worm-like coronary artery, or poking around the inside of each of the heart’s four chambers, feeling for abnormalities. It’s your heart, after all. Get a good look.


To create a 3-D heart, Kirk used a software program called Mimics. He transferred 2-D CT data from the computer to an industrial-strength 3-D printer and created a realistic and detailed anatomic model of an anonymous individual’s heart, which can be sliced down the middle to provide for interior views.

Most visual representations of a patient’s heart — based on X-rays, drawings, CT imaging and computer animation — never move beyond two dimensions. But Jason Kirk, an adjunct professor of digital media, found a way to create a useful medical tool that bridges the knowledge gap between doctor and patient.

“We have this complex organ that is essential to life, and if something goes wrong, we’ve got one person who can fix it and one person who can let them,” Kirk says. “Can we use this tool to get those people on the same page as quickly as possible?”

While on co-op in 2009, Kirk discovered 3-D printing, and was hooked. First he began making jewelry. Then, he experimented with toys and game pieces. Not long after, a few Drexel faculty and mentors challenged Kirk to use his skills for something bigger.

Kirk dug deep and harkened back to age 15, when he was in a doctor’s office with his father, who had suffered an aneurysm.

“The doctor showed us CT data, and I wouldn’t know it from Egyptian hieroglyphs,” Kirk says. “I thought back to that and realized there is a huge gap there.”

So Kirk, then a grad student and with no medical background, set about trying to make a 3-D, patient-specific replica to help patients understand pathology and discuss treatment.

“This model can provide patients with easily digestible information so they are well informed and can make the best decisions for the care they need to manage their illness,” Kirk says.