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3D printing helps ETH Zurich scientists create beating silicone heart

15 July 2017

Cohrs thereby states the "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".

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.

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. These tests proved that the system works at a fundamental level, and that the artificial heart moved in a way similar to the real thing.

The technology of 3D-printing has allowed the invention of a complex structure with the weight of only 390 grams.

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This new silicone heart was developed by researchers at the Functional Materials Laboratory at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

It consists of left and right ventricles that separated by the special chamber which acts as the muscle. As the chamber is inflated and deflate by pressurized air, it pumps the fluid from the chambers.

Unfortunately, the device only lasts for about 3,000 beats, which for an average person represents about 45 to 60 minutes of functionality. The findings were reported in the journal Artificial Organs. After that, the material can no longer withstand the strain.

The heart is only a proof of concept, and now won't last longer than 3,000 beats - which equates to around half an hour - but the team intends to improve the strength of the material in further iterations.

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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". Most current devices use mechanical approaches to pump blood, which can develop faults and can damage the blood they're pumping. The researchers of the silicone heart made use of this testing environment for their development process which also included the use of a fluid with comparable viscosity as human blood.

"As a mechanical engineer, I would never have thought that I would ever hold a soft heart in my hands", said Anastasios Petrou, a doctoral student on the project.

This development is yet far from the actual implant and studies will be continued.

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3D printing helps ETH Zurich scientists create beating silicone heart