ETH zürich researchers have 3D printed a soft silicone heart that beats almost like a real human organ. in collaboration with colleagues from the product development group zurich, they experimented with the prosthetic heart, and have found it could provide a safer, more comfortable, way to keep the blood pumping.


all images © ETH zürich

 

 

artificial hearts and other devices designed to keep blood flowing typically take the place of a damaged heart, while the patient awaits a donor organ or for their own heart to recover. there is a great need for new devices in this area, as on any given day, around 3000 people in the US alone sit on the waiting list for a heart transplant. scientists are continually looking for ways to develop innovative solutions and improve existing pumps, something that includes searching for more biocompatible materials to use, such as malleable foams. this led scientists at ETH zürich to create an artificial heart out of silicone that is designed to mimic the human organ as closely as possible.

 

 

it is around the same size as a human heart, weighs 390 g (0.85 lb) and was created using 3D printing, and a lost-wax casting technique. just like the real heart, it has a right and left ventricle, which is separated by a chamber that serves as the organ’s muscle. as the chamber is inflated and deflated by pressurized air, it can pump the fluid from the chambers.

 

in testing the device, the researchers used a fluid with similar viscosity to human blood and found that fundamentally, it functioned in a similar way to a human heart. there is one pretty serious limitation, however, in that the material can only withstand around 3000 beats — which equates to around 30 to 45 minutes of usage. having said that, the team says this proof of concept shows a feasible future path when it comes to artificial hearts.

 

 

 

nicholas cohrs, a doctoral student in the group developing the silicone heart, comments, ‘this was simply a feasibility test. our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts.’

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