3D Printed Heart Passes First Trials 0

Someday, you (or someone you love) may receive an artificial heart created on a 3D printer. Doctors and researchers are using 3D printers to create medical devices that aid in the care of patient since the devices first hit the market. One such device has been the tracheal ventilator, which allows patients to be able to breathe easier because the 3-D printer enables medical professionals to design the piece so that it fits the neck and trachea of the individual, making the seal for the ventilator significantly more effective. Now, a 3D printer is being used to create a fully functioning artificial heart, a technology that researchers say will enable millions of people across the globe to live normal lives after suffering from heart failure.

According to Nicholas Cohrs of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the goal of this project was not only to create a fully functioning heart that could be used to replace the ailing one, but to create one that is within one percent of the size of the person’s own, failing heart. “Our goal is to develop an artificial heart that is the same size as the patient’s own one, and which imitates the human heart as closely as possible in form and function,” Cohrs explained.

There are currently 26 million people across the globe who suffer from heart failure and are waiting for heart transplants. With donated hearts in short supply,  many will die long before a heart is available for them, creating a greater urgency to find an alternative. To this point, an artificial blood pump has been used by doctors to keep the blood flowing to the vital organs until the person’s heart recovers or a donor heart has been found. It is hoped that this technology will help to alleviate this problem by providing an alternative that could keep patients alive for years.

The artificial heart produced by the 3-D printer has provided positive results, although those results are limited. According to Cohrs, the heart only lasts up to 3,000 heartbeats, which is about 30 to 45 minutes of time, clearly not adequate enough for use as a transplant device. The scientist is not concerned.

“This was simply a feasibility test,” Cohrs explained. “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 process by which the 3D printing heart works is slightly different than how a normal heart works. While there are a right and left ventricle in the artificial device, an additional chamber separates the two ventricles, in contrast to the human heart, where the two chambers are separated by a septum.

The additional chamber is pressurized with air to keep the blood flowing through the chambers so that the fluid can circulate around the body. The inflation and deflation of this chamber acts in a similar manner to the human heart, creating a force that enables the blood to be drawn into the heart and then forced out and back into the blood stream.

The hearts now being produced by Chors and his team provide a proof of concept, but 3D printer hearts will have limited application until their longevity is increased significantly. A working artificial heart would need to have a longevity of at least nine years to become economically feasible.  That’s the average survival rate for heart transplant patients.  The bare minimum is probably five years when one considers the expensive operations and the long recovery periods required after a transplant. An artificial, transplantable heart might also reduce or even eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs that are currently required by heart transplant patients.  This is the next step for the research team.