Silicon 3D-printed heart looks and functions much like the real deal

Faith Castro
July 15, 2017

Scientists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have managed to create a silicone heart that works and pumps blood like a biological human heart.

A small team at ETH, led by doctoral student Nicholas Cohrs, has created what they say is the first artificial heart that's entirely soft, with its pumping mechanism achieved by causing the silicone ventricles to pump just like a real heart. Instead, an additional chamber is used, which is inflated and deflated by pressurized air.

"This was simply a feasibility test", said Cohrs. "Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts", Cohrs said, adding that materials would have to be enhanced significantly to produce a usable prototype. The findings were reported in the journal Artificial Organs.

The researchers noted that well-functioning artificial hearts are greatly needed, as over 26 million people around the world suffer from heart failure, and heart donors are usually scarce worldwide.

Artificial hearts and other devices created to keep blood flowing typically take the place of damaged heart, while the patient awaits a donor organ or for their own heart to recover.

Anastasios Petrou, a doctoral student of the Product Development Group Zurich, led by Professor Mirko Meboldt evaluated the performance of this soft artificial heart. After this, the material can no longer withstand the strain and it starts to falls apart.

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Some doctoral students of the Product Development Group Zurich are also now working on new technologies for artificial hearts, and have successfully developed a testing environment in which they can mimic the human cardiovascular system.

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.

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.

The special testing area for the silicone heart.

There are many reasons why this silicone heart couldn't be implanted into a human body.

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