Scientists create a pumping artificial heart – using foam

The poroelastic silicone foam model heart(Credit: Cornell University)

Perhaps you sleep on a memory foam mattress. Well, in the future, a similar material could be used to create artificial body parts. Researchers at Cornell University recently used their new "elastomer foam" to build a functioning fluid pump that looks and works like a human heart.

The poroelastic silicone foam can be formed to any shape desired, by being cast in a 3D-printed mold while still in its liquid state.

Once it sets, the material is very soft and pliable, can be stretched by up to 600 percent, and is made up of interconnected pores that allow liquid to pass through. The connectivity of those pores can be tweaked, however, in order to fine-tune how easily liquid can move through the foam.

In order to keep the liquid within the confines of the artificial heart (except at the hoses, where it enters and exits), the scientists coated the outside of it with a flexible silicone/carbon fiber shell. By varying the amount and type of materials used for such shells, it would be possible for different parts of objects made with the foam to expand at different rates. This means that a spherical object, for example, could take on an elongated egg shape when inflated with air or liquid.

The researchers have already begun work on a prosthetic foam hand, and are also working on both making the material more biocompatible, and obtaining FDA approval. They say that creating the heart was a quick and easy process, and that it would be possible to custom-design hearts (or other body parts) to match the requirements of individual people.

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