Researchers 3D Print a Silicone Artificial Heart That Beats Like a Real One

Jessica Miley

A working artificial heart has been 3D printed by researchers from ETH Zurich. The beating artificial heart is made from silicon created using 3D-printing and lost-wax casting technique. While the prototype isn’t ready to replace failed hearts in humans, the technology could be used to replace blood pumps that are used in hospitals for patients awaiting heart transplants.

The artificial heart is created from a single piece of silicon, so the likelihood of complications associated with the pump's combination of plastic and metal is reduced. The team leading the research set their sights to make a 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."

Researchers 3D Print a Silicone Artificial Heart That Beats Like a Real One

[Image Source: Zurich Heart/ETHZ]

Artifical heart beats like a human's

The most recent version of the astounding invention does use the basic design of a human heart. It has a left and right ventricle. But instead of a wall between the two tubes, they designed the artificial heart to have an extra chamber that is inflated and deflated by pressurized air. This is how they manage to get the ‘beating effect’. The invention gives a lot of hope to future ‘soft machine’ technology. But there is a long way to go before these types of artificial organs would be ready to replace living tissue.

New materials need to be developed to extend the life of heart

The current silicone heart model only lasts for 3,000 beats or about 45 minutes. The silicone mold begins to break down after this time due to the continual motion and pressure it is under. The search is now on to find a more durable material, that still has the soft and flexible properties of silicone but can last much longer in operation. The researchers stated, “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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The search for a fully functioning artificial heart is a real necessity. More than 26 million people suffer from heart failure around the world each year. Many of these people will die due to lack of donor hearts available.

The research team is a collaborative group created from medical researchers and engineers from the Functional Materials Laboratory at ETH in Zurich. One of the team members, Anastasios Petrou, said, “As a mechanical engineer, I would never have thought that I would ever hold a soft heart in my hands. I’m now so fascinated by this research that I would very much like to continue working on the development of artificial hearts,” says Petrou.

Other Soft Robots could be developed to save lives

Other types of ‘soft robots’ have been developed for use in treating heart problems. Researchers from Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital have developed a silicone type sleeve that might help save the lives of heart attack victims. The soft sleeve wraps around the heart and pumps and twists the muscles to improve cardiovascular function.

Featured Image Source: ETH Zürich/YouTube

Sources: ETHZ, Engadget, TechCrunch

SEE ALSO: Researchers Use Magnetic Fields to Bring Soft Robots to Life

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