The heart was created using a 3D-printed method that lets the researchers make a complex inner structure while still using soft, flexible material as its structure.
This development is yet far from the actual implant and studies will be continued. The exciting research project demonstrates that it is possible to create functional artificial hearts or other cardiovascular devices using soft materials.
Scientists at ETH Zurich recently used 3D printing to create a functional silicone heart that beats nearly like the real thing.
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.
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.
Artificial hearts and other devices created to keep blood flowing typically take the place of damaged heart, while the patient awaits a donor organ or for their own heart to recover.
The team stayed true to their mission and developed a silicone heart that has a right and a left ventricle like its real counterpart.
"As a mechanical engineer, I would never have thought that I would ever hold a soft heart in my hands", said Anastasios Petrou, the grad student who led the testing, in an ETH Zurich news release. But instead of a wall in between the two, they're separated by an extra chamber inflated and deflated by pressurized air in order to mimic contractions and pump blood. Part of the research focuses on improvements on existing blood pumps, such as how to reduce blood damage induced from the mechanical parts of the pump, while others explore extremely elastic membranes or more biocompatible surfaces. For starters, it only lasts for around 3,000 beats, or 30 to 45 minutes. Cohrs explains: "This was simply a feasibility test".
The researchers were able to evaluate the performance of the heart in a testing environment that simulates human cardiovascular systems. "I'm now so fascinated by this research that I would very much like to continue working on the development of artificial hearts".
In tests the heart worked quite well, pushing a blood-like fluid along against body-like pressures.