The devices currently used to pump blood around the body in lieu of a healthy heart have their drawbacks. 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. With this in mind, scientists have now developed a soft silicone heart that beats much like the real thing, and could provide a safer and more comfortable way to keep the blood pumping.

Artificial hearts and other devices designed to keep blood flowing typically take the place of damaged heart, while the patient awaits a donor organ or for their own heart to recover. There is a great need for new devices in this area, as on any given day, around 3,000 people in the US alone sit on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

So scientists are continually looking for ways to develop new solutions and improve existing pumps, something that includes searching for more biocompatible materials to use, such as malleable foams. This led scientists at ETH Zurich to create an artificial heart out of silicone that is designed to mimic the natural heart as closely as possible.

It is around the same size as a human heart, weighs 390 g (0.85 lb) and was created using 3D printing and a lost-wax casting technique. Just like the real thing, it has a right and left ventricle, which is separated by a chamber that serves as the organ's muscle. As the chamber is inflated and deflated by pressurized air, it pumps the fluid from the chambers.

In testing the device, the researchers used a fluid with similar viscosity to human blood and found that fundamentally, it functioned in a similar way to a human heart. 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. With that said, the team says this proof of concept shows a possible path forward when it comes to artificial hearts.

"This was simply a feasibility test," says Nicholas Cohrs, a doctoral student at ETH Zurich and member of the research team. "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 video below shows the artificial heart in action, while the research was published in the journal Artificial Organs.

Source: ETH Zurich

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