Scientists in Switzerland have managed to engineer a functional silicon heart through the use of 3D printing
Swiss scientists announced on Thursday the 13th of July that they had managed to engineer a prototype 3D silicon heart that is almost as functional as a human heart. Researchers are excited that this breakthrough will lead to a more successful exploration into artificial organ development. They hope that such an innovation will ultimately replace the need for human organ donors.
Around the globe, approximately 26 million people suffer from heart failure every year. Donor’s hearts are chronically in short supply. It is, therefore, no wonder that scientists worldwide are rushing to innovate alternative solutions that will save more lives. Competing concepts, such as using animal hosts to create replacement human organs, are wrought with ethical quandaries. Scientists and engineers who successfully generate artificial donor organs will bypass the gray areas that these dilemmas create.
Nicholas Chors, the doctoral student at ETH Switzerland who conceived of the project, stresses that the creation of the 3D heart was only part of a feasibility test. Researchers at ETH’s Functional Materials Laboratory have not yet created an artificial heart that is ready for transplantation into patients. Nevertheless, their important new invention certainly visualizes an exciting new direction in which transplant research can take.
Before surgeons can use such a prototype in heart transplant surgery, researchers hope to develop this artificial heart model at least, initially, to replace mechanical pumps. In its current state, ETH’s artificial heart only beats approximately 3000 times before the materials begin to break down. Engineers need to improve the form of the heart so that it beats indefinitely, rather than deteriorating after around 30 minutes.
Current mechanical pumps are notoriously at risk of failing and causing physical complications the patient. However, so far, these pumps are the only option available to save the lives of those who are recovering from heart failure or waiting on a donor list for a new heart.
Researchers hope that this soft silicon heart will mimic a real heart, thereby reducing such complications. Additionally, this artificial heart provides a pulse of blood, which is consistent with the human body.
Furthermore, doctors could potentially print a unique heart based on the anatomical needs of any particular patient. Currently, the prototype heart is approximately the same size as a human adult heart. However, at 390 grams it weighs slightly more.
The artificial heart’s volume is 679 cubic centimeters and it contains chambers, mimicking the ventricles in the heart. However, unlike the human heart, there are three chambers in the prototype, the third filled with air so to act as a pump. In the human heart, this chamber is a muscle. For the sake of the study, researchers used a liquid that has the same consistency as blood.
Other directions that this research can take include innovating ways to regenerate damaged heart tissue.
Previous success with 3D printed hearts
Surgeons have already been utilizing 3D heart printing in other ways to save lives. As far back as 2014, a surgeon at New York – Presbyterian Hospital announced he was able to perform successful heart surgery on a 2-week-old baby by using a 3D printed heart.
Dr. Emile Bacha explained how the ability to view the precise anatomy of the baby’s heart via the model enabled him to not only increase the life expectancy of the child but also perform a single surgery that in the past would have required 3-4. Since Bacha’s success, 3D printing organs for surgery has been used successfully around the world.
YOUTUBE (ETH Zürich):