3D-printed artificial heart beats just like the real thing

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

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. The chamber is created to be inflated and deflated by pressurized air to pump fluid from the blood chambers to replace the muscle contraction of the human heart. Now used blood pumps have many disadvantages: their mechanical parts are susceptible to complications while the patient lacks a physiological pulse, which is assumed to have some consequences for the patient.

Although the heart worked in a similar fashion to a real human heart, the material could only withstand the strain of pumped circulation for roughly 3,000 beats, or for a period of 30 to 45 minutes.

"This was simply a feasibility test", Cohrs said.

The creators of the new artificial pump used this testing environment to test the efficiency of their simulated organ.

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A well-functioning artificial heart is a real necessity: about 26 million people worldwide suffer from heart failure while there is a shortage of donor hearts. Having fabricated the heart, the structure was evaluated with the help of the Product Development Group at ETH Zurich. A fluid was used which has a comparable viscosity to human blood.

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.

"As a mechanical engineer, I would never have thought that I would ever hold a soft heart in my hands", said Petrou.

According to the scientists, the invention could revolutionize drug testing, as heart drugs could be tested on the miniature hearts, while at the same time the method could one day make possible for labs to grow human hearts for transplants. The breakthrough is still far from being a viable option for humans, but could lead to replacing the body's most vital organ. The same techniques that go into making a robot arm that flexes and turns like a real one can go into making more complex, subtle organs - like the heart, as Swiss researchers have demonstrated.

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