The heart is a simple organ. It is a muscle that functions as a pump. However, it isn’t easy or cheap to replicate using synthetic materials. For example, to manufacture an artificial heart, the cost can be anywhere from £100,000 to £300,000 (and sometimes more). The biggest cost is manufacturing the chambers, which are incredibly intricate and will only function if they are perfect dimensionally. And then, you have the very serious issue of bio-compatibility, and the obvious issue of cost, which limits the amount of research people can perform.
Right now, mechanical hearts are considered to be a viable treatment for end-stage biventricular heart failure and they are being considered for other conditions. But, the technology isn’t perfect.
A potential solution to the issue of cost is 3D printing, which a team of researchers used recently to manufacture artificial heart components as part of a trial for a project named ‘Centre of the Advanced Studies on Engineering Systems’. Headed by Tomasz Górski, PhD Eng, a team of researchers used a Zortrax M200 3D printer to manufacture all the required components of an artificial heart, before testing it using a professional computerised stand.
3D Printing an Artificial Heart
A team of researchers, headed by Tomasz Górski, PhD Eng, 3D printed blood and air chambers for an artificial heart using the Zortrax M200. They used Z-ULTRAT and Z-PETG filaments to print these, and Z-ULTRAT was also used to print the diaphragms, while the cast for silicone moulds was also printed with Z-ULTRAT.
As Zortrax points out, the models can improve the safety of surgeries: “The main objective of the project was to create a computerized built-in system, including the software and equipment, which is to measure the stroke volume from the chamber of the artificial heart in real time. Together they have already printed 4 models of artificial hearts that are used for tests where by applying particular algorithms, the efficiency of the models is being tested. Having the models of devices that are used to transplantations allows testing the measuring techniques, which boosts the safety of surgeries.”
Of course, it has to be said that this particular heart is not designed for human trials. It wouldn’t work – it’s a model of the devices that are being used. It was created to serve as a guide for future prototypes of customised prosthesis, and to show how 3D printing can advance the medical field.
Beating The Cost Issue
Medical development costs are very high. At best, trials cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. And, the amount of money available to scientists is not always sufficient. As Zortrax points out, the drawback of this is that educated people with revolutionary ideas don’t always get the platform to develop them.
3D printing can change that. For instance, 3D printing the components of an artificial heart, for the Centre of the Advanced Studies on Engineering Systems project, allowed a team of researchers to speed up the development of their study, and keep costs super-low. The approximate cost to manufacture the heart was just $21 USD.
To find out more about this project, visit the official Zortrax article.