It’s something nobody likes to think about: Every surgeon, even heart surgeons, have to have a first patient.

We just hope it’s not us.

Trying to better prepare doctors for real-world surgery, Kaiyan Qiu, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, is developing a better, real-world heart model that aspiring surgeons could practice on before they go into the operating room. Qiu recently won a $50,000 grant through WSU’s inaugural Cougar Cage competition to help advance the technology.

More than 4,000 preventable surgical mistakes occur every year in the U.S., and medical mistakes tragically are thought to cause as much as 250,000 deaths every year. As surgeons get ready for surgery, they traditionally rely on images from MRIs or CTs to prepare, but these methods lack important information, such as the orientation, dimensions, and physical movement of organs, Qiu said.

Closeup of Kaiyan Qiu
Kaiyan Qiu

A 3D-printed, patient-specific organ model could be used to help doctors better visualize and understand a patient’s condition and possible surgical treatments. Such models so far have been mostly made of plastic or rubber-like materials. While they might help doctors understand anatomy, they don’t help with real-world practice.

About this series

The Cougar Cage competition is a new way for WSU students, faculty and staff to secure private donor support through the Palouse Club for worthwhile projects that can help build the continued success of the University.

This series explores the first six projects to survive the competition and win funding from the group.

Modeled after the popular TV show Shark Tank, the first Cougar Cage match concluded in March. Future rounds are being planned.

Qiu has worked over the past several years to develop 3D-printed, life-like models, including one of an aortic heart valve and of a prostate. He is now working to further develop his polymeric inks to better mimic the physical properties of cardiac organ tissue and to create the 3D-printed model of a heart. His heart model will contain sensors that could help to assess a damaging technique. For instance, the sensors might be able to notice evidence of too much pressure on part of the heart muscle if a surgeon in training inserted a stent incorrectly.

“This will help the surgeon know if their performance is accurate or proper,” he said. “Our model can give quantitative and real-time feedback, so that the surgeon can have an advanced surgical rehearsal.”

Qiu’s model will also include a dynamic function and will “beat,” so that practicing surgeons could gain a more real-world experience and someday practice real surgical techniques, such as suturing or cutting, under dynamic conditions.

“So far, advanced dynamic cardiac organ models have not been systematically developed for specific surgical applications,” he said. “These organ models can well serve advanced surgical applications in different environments.”