Jul 13, 2017 | By Benedict

Functional Materials Laboratory researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) have used 3D printing to create a silicone heart that beats almost like the real thing. The artificial heart can last for around 3,000 beats, or 30 to 45 minutes.

Nobody really knows when the prospect of a transplantable 3D printed heart could become a reality, but that won’t stop researchers attempting to harness the power of 3D printing to make highly advanced replicas of one of our most vital organs.

Scientists at ETH Zurich recently used 3D printing to create a functional silicone heart that beats almost like the real thing. The exciting research project demonstrates that it is possible to create functional artificial hearts or other cardiovascular devices using soft materials. Hard, mechanical blood pumps can produce complications, and do not provide patients with a pulse.

“Our goal is to develop an artificial heart that is roughly the same size as the patient’s own one and which imitates the human heart as closely as possible in form and function,” commented Nicholas Cohrs, a doctoral student in the ETH Zurich research group led by Professor Wendelin Stark.

Artificial hearts are commonly used as “stopgap” solutions when a patient is awaiting a heart transplant. However, some artificial hearts are used permanently. Around 26 million people worldwide suffer from heart failure, but there are not enough donor hearts to accommodate them.

The newly made heart has a left and right ventricle, which are separated by an additional chamber rather than a septum. This special chamber inflates and deflates with pressurized air, and pumps fluid from the blood chambers. It therefore acts in place of the muscle contraction of the human heart.

3D printing and a lost wax casting technique were used to create the silicone heart, which weighs 390 grams and has a volume of 679 cubic centimeters. “It is a silicone monoblock with complex inner structure,” Cohrs said.

There are many reasons why this silicone heart couldn’t be implanted into a human body. For starters, it only lasts for around 3,000 beats, or 30 to 45 minutes.

But the heart is a success in other ways: “This was simply a feasibility test,” Cohrs said. “Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts.”

To test their silicone heart, the researchers made use of a state-of-the-art testing environment that simulates the human cardiovascular system. A fluid was used which has a comparable viscosity to human blood.

“Currently, our system is probably one of the best in the world,” commented Anastasios Petrou, a doctoral student of the Product Development Group Zurich.

The artificial heart research, which has been published in the journal Artificial Organs, could be used to develop safer and more biocompatible artificial hearts.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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