Health Care

3D printing helps ETH Zurich scientists create beating silicone heart

3D printing helps ETH Zurich scientists create beating silicone heart

Heart diseases rank first among causes of death.

Scientists at ETH Zurich recently used 3D printing to create a functional silicone heart that beats nearly like the real thing.

It's comprised of a left and right ventricle which are separated by another chamber that inflates and deflates with air pressure, thus mimicking the pumping action of the human heart.

They proved that the soft artificial heart fundamentally works and moves in a similar way to a human heart. These artificial hearts help to keep patients alive while they wait for an organ donor or until their own hearts recover.

One problem with artificial hearts is that metal and plastic mechanisms can be hard to integrate with tissue, or damage the blood due to their unnatural movement style. The artificial heart can last for around 3,000 beats, or 30 to 45 minutes. The silicone heart has been developed by Nicholas Cohrs, a doctoral student in the group led by Wendelin Stark, Professor of Functional Materials Engineering at ETH Zurich.

In the future, it could be used as an temporary heart instead of the blood pumps hospitals use today for patients waiting for a heart transplant.

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a silicone artificial heart using a 3D printer.

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There are many reasons why this silicone heart couldn't be implanted into a human body. Cohrs noted that it is a silicone monoblock with a complex inner structure.

After the tests, researchers found that at this moment the material can sustain only for around 3,000 beats that are less than an hour considering normal pulse.

Despite this doctoral student Anastasios Petrou, part of the Product Development Group Zurich, believes the "system is probably one of the best in the world". After that, the material can no longer withstand the strain.

But the heart is a success in other ways: "This was simply a feasibility test", Cohrs said.

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. "Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts", said Cohrs. This subsequent research was published in Artificial Organs. Doctoral students of Product Development Group Zurich, who are working on new technologies for blood pumps, have developed a testing environment with which they can simulate the human cardiovascular system.

This is definitely a solid approach, and it could inspire the development of other artificial organs as well.