This First Ever 3D-Printed Soft Artificial Heart May Lead to a Much Improved Heart Prosthetic

Khryss | Published 2017-07-25 16:17

Heart disease is still one of the most debilitating illnesses today. In the United States alone, 600,000 people die every year because of this. But thanks to the advancing technology, we are able to save some lives with a heart transplant.

Yet while 2,000 people each year get to have such transplant, there's still about 3,000 more on the waiting list--a demand that's really difficult to cope up with. Hence, doctors and scientists have been continually trying to find a way to fill such growing need. Their answer? Artificial hearts.

This prosthetic isn't actually very new to us. It has even been implanted to a couple of people already. However, previous artificial hearts seem to be "unnatural" and too "device-like".

But not anymore.

For the first time ever, a 3D-printed, totally soft silicone artificial heart was created. This is an attempt of the researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, to make an artificial heart that actually mimics the real ones that we have. Their model is said to be "roughly the same size as the patient's own and imitates the human heart as closely as possible in form and function," says Nicholas Cohrs, a Ph.D. student at ETH Zurich.

We all know that each person's heart size vary. And so, to design and create an artificial heart that fits a certain person is really a huge challenge. That's why utilizing a 3D printer is useful as it enables the doctors to tailor the prosthetic heart to a specific patient.

This new silicone heart model, though, is a bit heavier (390 grams) than a real heart. On average, a man's heart weighs just about 300 grams, with women having slightly lighter ones (245 grams).  Moreover, its biggest drawback may actually be its stability. When tested, the artificial heart can only pump 3,000 beats, which means it can only last for about 45 minutes, as each beat strains the silicone material.

"This was simply a feasibility test," said Cohrs. "Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts."

Nonetheless, I'm still very hopeful that this new soft heart prosthetic will be able to decrease the number of deaths this seemingly unstoppable disease has been causing.

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