ETH researchers print silicone heart

Zurich – Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich have created an artificial heart using a 3D printer. Tests show that it beats almost like a human heart. But the material still needs to be improved before it can be used for implantations.

It has a volume of 679 cubic centimetres, weighs 390 grams and is made of silicone. The soft artificial heart created by ETH researchers using a 3D printer was developed to mimic the human heart so it can be used in patients with heart failure. As ETH Zurich explains in a statement, while artificial blood pumps already exist, they work without generating a physiological pulse, possibly leading to some consequences for the patient.

“Therefore, our 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,” said Nicholas Cohrs, a doctoral student at ETH Zurich.

The silicone heart brings the Zurich researchers one step closer to their goal. Tests show that it fundamentally works and moves in a similar way to a human heart. However, it currently lasts for about only 3,000 beats, which corresponds to only 30 to 40 minutes. In a next step, the researchers plan to improve the tensile strength of the material and its performance.

“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,” said Cohrs.

To conduct the test, the artificial heart was connected to a system developed by ETH mechanical engineers that can simulate the human cardiovascular system. “Currently, our system is probably one of the best in the world,” said ETH researcher Anastosios Petrou.

The artificial heart was tested as part of the project Zurich Heart, which brings together 20 research groups from various disciplines and institutions.

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