In recent years, the world of science and excellent innovations have been experiencing incredible breakthroughs, and huge life-saving inventions keep hitting the world by the day. Speaking of inventions, Swiss scientists have created a soft artificial heart that beats just like the real one — more like one that beats just like yours!

An artificial heart is an invaluable creation that can bring solution to a long-term problem — according to recent stats, about 26 million people around the world are suffering from heart failure as well as a global shortage of donors. This issue can be addressed by custom-made artificial hearts — meaning damaged human hearts can be replaced without a transplant.

The team of Swiss researchers behind the artificial heart claims that its prototype heart beats just like the human heart for about 30 minutes before the material breaks down — the scientists are still working hard to perfect their invention. In other words, the heart is not built for actual implementation — extra work needs to be done so the heart can last longer than a few thousand beats.

A member of the small team at ETH, Nicholas Cohrs says “Our goal is to build an artificial heart that is about the same size as the patient’s own, one which imitates the human heart as closely as possible in both form and function.”

 

So what’s the idea behind this invention?

For starters, the heart was created using 3D printed method that gives researchers the chance to develop a complex inner structure while still maintaining its structure made from soft, flexible material. The thing is, the entire prototype heart is monoblock; so you don’t have to figure out how various internal mechanisms fit together.

For the most part, the silicone heart has left and right ventricles, just like the ones found in the human heart — there’s also an additional chamber that plays the role of the heart’s engine.
The big idea is that pressurized air inflates and deflates this additional chamber so that blood can flow through the ventricles. This study used a certain liquid that possesses same viscosity as blood for the test, and it performed excellently for the specified time.

The prototype heart weighs 390 grams (13.8 ounces) and has a volume of 679 cubic centimeters (41 cubic inches). It’s about the same size of the human heart but a bit heavier. It would be great if the silicone heart could replace mechanical pumps (VAD) since they’re always at risk of failure or causing other health complications in the body.

At the moment, a Ventricular Assist Device is used to support heart function and blood flow in people who are recovering from heart failure or those waiting for a heart transplant.

As we mentioned earlier, the artificial health only lasts a few thousand beats — roughly 3,000 beats in half an hour. It’s pretty clear that the strength of material and performance of the heart needs a lot of work; but the invention of a soft, 3D printed heart that imitates the beating mechanism of a real heart is an incredible start.

According to Cohrs, the whole thing is more like a feasibility test. Their goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation but to figure out the new direction for the development of artificial hearts.

The good thing is, there are other studies that have shown the possibility of regenerating damaged heart tissue — this is great, even as we still work towards replacing critical organs with a 3D printed version.

Speaking of studies, a team of scientists from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) made use of spinach leaves to develop functioning heart tissue — one that’s complete with veins to transport blood. This is absolutely amazing. Furthermore, scientists have explained how gene programming in a sea anemone can lead to a significant breakthrough in teaching human cells to replace heart tissue.

All in all, we haven’t gotten to the point where we can conveniently replace a weakened or damaged heart with an artificial one, but it’s really awesome to see that we’re getting closer to that reality.

The Work of the scientists has been published in the journal Artificial Organs.