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3D Printing a Beating Artificial Heart

Digital Trends reports on a recent project coming out of ETH Zurich in Switzerland.  Scientists at ETH Zurich have developed a functioning 3D printed beating heart.

This 3D printed heart is made out of silicone using a 3D printed mold.  “While not a biological replica of the actual heart, the idea is that it could be used as an artificial heart in scenarios such as when a patient is awaiting a heart transplant.”

Wendelin Stark, who is a professor at the Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering at ETH Zurich, explains the process of developing this 3D printed artificial heart: “I met with a heart surgeon, Professor Volkmar Falk, now head of the largest heart surgery clinic in Europe, at the Charite [teaching hospital] in Berlin.  He asked me if we could think about a new artificial heart.  I had no clue at first.  Then we learned that current heart support machines are made of hard materials like steel or titanium and plastic.  When a patient receives such a hard device, the blood tends to make clumps – so the patient is given a so-called ‘anticoagulant,’ a drug that reduces blood clot formation.”

Stark went on to explain this “can cause serious problems for patients – ranging from strokes to lung problems to intestinal bleeding.  It was astonishing to find out that the anticoagulation therapy was the largest single cause of problems in patients with heart implants.”

Therefore, Stark and his team were able to specify their new artificial heart would have to be a soft implant.  With a soft implant, anticoagulation therapy wouldn’t be necessary anymore.  Due to “Stark’s history with 3D printing, his team decided to make a 3D printed mold, which could then be used to create a silicon rubber heart.”

Stark explains: “we used the mold to make silicon soft pumps, and optimized the design to fit a human heart-type pumping pattern.  We teamed up with Mirko Mebolt, a mechanical engineer, and tested the prototype against a human-like blood flow resistance.”

The 3D printed artificial heart Stark and his team came up with is “promising” but not yet stable enough for proper human use.  “At present, it only works for several thousand beats, lasting around 30 to 45 minutes.  Over time…the plan is to develop a model which could conceivably work over a period of years.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Digital Trends

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