Researchers in Zurich have developed a life-size and almost-functional replica of a human heart, made entirely from silicon - and using a 3D-printer.
If it looks like a heart, and it beats like a heart, is it a heart? Not quite, but scientists at the federal technology institute ETH Zurich have come very close to creating an artificial replica of the body’s pump.
The institute announced in a press releaseexternal link that the model, which is the same size as a human heart and “designed to mimic its natural model as closely as possible”, had been successfully developed and tested, and that the results were promising.
“The soft artificial heart fundamentally works and moves in a similar way to a human heart,” they said: that is, by pumping pressurized air into a central chamber, fluid can thus be pumped naturally in and out of the ventricles on either side.
And it works – but “only” for about 3,000 beats, which corresponds to a lifetime of half to three quarters of an hour.
An eye on the future
However, the progress, which was published by the researchers in the latest edition of the scientific journal Artificial Organsexternal link, give hope for future potential in an important field.
“A well-functioning artificial heart is a real necessity: about 26 million people worldwide suffer from heart failure while there is a shortage of donor hearts,” they said.
For now, artificial blood pumps are used while patients receive a transplant or complete an operation.
This is a good starting point, according to one of the scientists, doctoral student Nicholas 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.”
The fake organ was created from silicone using 3D-printing, and weighs in at 390 grams, with a volume of 679 cm3.