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Researchers Develop Silicone Heart that Beats Almost Like Human Heart

15 July 2017, 02:42 | Winifred Adams

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Blood pumps are now used as a substitute or as a stopgap while a patient waits for a donor heart or to recover from the heart problem. There is one pretty serious limitation, however, in that the material can only withstand around 3,000 beats which equates to around 30 to 45 minutes of usage. The exciting research project demonstrates that it is possible to create functional artificial hearts or other cardiovascular devices using soft materials. Whether huge washing machine-sized devices that keep patients anchored to a hospital bed or mechanical implants that cause other complications, there is plenty of room for improvement. Created using 3D-printing techniques, the artificial organ is designed to have left and right ventricles, and to pump blood without the need of complex inner mechanisms. Around 26 million people worldwide suffer from heart failure, but there are not enough donor hearts to accommodate them. What's needed in the interim is a device that more closely resembles the real thing, and that's exactly what a research team led by Nicholas Cohrs from ETH Zurich has done.

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. This chamber is in- and deflated by pressurized air and is required to pump fluid from the blood chambers, thus replacing the muscle contraction of the human heart.

"This was simply a feasibility test", said Cohrs.

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To test their silicone heart, the researchers made use of a state-of-the-art testing environment that simulates the human cardiovascular system.

In tests the heart worked quite well, pushing a blood-like fluid along against body-like pressures. "Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts".

"Currently, our system is probably one of the best in the world", commented Anastasios Petrou, a doctoral student of the Product Development Group Zurich. It came to life during the doctoral studies of Nichals Cohrs, who is now part of the Zurich Heart project which focuses on improving existing blood pumps. The young researchers have just published the results of the experiments in the scientific journal Artificial Organs.



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