This new type of artificial heart is the first of its kind. It is entirely soft and was developed to mimic—as closely as possible—the structure and functions of a natural heart. Nearly 26 million people across the globe suffer from heart failure, and there are not enough donor organs to offer transplants to them all.
Blood pumps, which are the current technological standard for patients suffering from heart failure, do not offer the same kinds of advantages as the new soft heart does. They are made of mechanical parts, which can sometimes break or incur complications. There is some level of blood damage that is brought on by these mechanical parts as well.
The patient also does not have a physical pulse while being treated with blood pumps. This is said to have adverse psychological effects on the patient.
The new kind of heart, developed by a team of researchers at ETH Zurich, is made completely of silicone. It was 3D printed using a specialized lost-wax method of printing. It is approximately the same size as a human heart and should imitate its functions as closely as possible.
New artificial heart moves the same way as a human heart
The artificial heart has the same right and left ventricles as a real heart, with an additional cavity in place instead of the septum separator. This additional cavity mimics the pumping of a natural heart through the use of pressurized air, which causes it to inflate and deflate as the contracting muscles in the heart would.
The researchers who developed the new artificial heart can confidently say that it acts in a similar manner to a real human heart. This new technology is not perfect, however. It has a limit to its functionality, beginning to fail after approximately 3,000 beats. To put this in perspective, your heart beats approximately 1,000 times every ten minutes. The material begins to break down after this point.
Their goal with this new development was to determine a new way of looking at imitation hearts. They did not anticipate having a transplant-ready model at this early stage of development. The strength of the materials has to be drastically increased before this silicone heart will be able to handle the strains of supporting a human life.
This research has brought together over 20 teams from Zurich and Berlin, all of whom are investigating ways to improve the already existing blood pumps. They believe their testing facilities are some of the best in the world for this kind of research. They are hopeful for the future of this research and the potential it can have on improving treatments for heart failure patients.