Testing A Soft Artificial Heart


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

Given the sheer complexity of the mechanisms involved, artificial hearts tend to come with a variety of risks, from blood clots to device malfunctions.

There is definitely a need for artificial hearts, as ETH Zurich points out, there are 26 million people suffering from heart failure in the world and a prevalent lack of heart donors. As the chamber is inflated and deflate by pressurized air, it pumps the fluid from the chambers. And while it won't be taking over the job of a real heart any time soon, it does hint at a future of smaller and more human-like artificial organs.

Based on the series of tests the team conducted, its current iteration only lasts for 3,000 beats, enough to keep someone alive for 30 to 45 minutes.

3D printing and a lost wax casting technique were used to create the silicone heart, which weighs 390 grams and has a volume of 679 cubic centimeters. "It is a silicone monoblock with complex inner structure", explains Cohrs.

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

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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. Researchers at ETH Zürich made the heart and tested its performance on a hybrid mock circulation.

Scientists have also shared plans to one day take an animal heart, most likely from a pig, remove its cells and then replace them with human cells from a patient's own body.

Cohrs explains: "This was simply a feasibility test".

In testing the device, the researchers used a fluid with similar viscosity to human blood and found that fundamentally, it functioned in a similar way to a human heart. "Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts", Cohrs said, adding that materials would have to be enhanced significantly to produce a usable prototype.

"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.