The heart, responsible for performing vital life activity in humans, is regarded as one of the most complex and important organs in the body. Unfortunately, the number of hearts available for transplantation does not match the number of patients awaiting a heart transplant.
The medical industry is therefore constantly seeking an artificial heart that could be used as a bridging device whilst a patient is awaiting surgery. Developing a working artificial heart is still very much something which resides in the distant future, even though there are 3D printers capable of printing with cells that are biocompatible with human tissue.
Although there exist many types of equipment such as cardiopulmonary bypasses or ventricular assisting machines, making a model of a reliably-functioning device that can entirely replace an inadequately working organ is an urgent requirement.
Putting their Heart into Teamwork
A team from the Department of Optoelectronics of the Silesian University of Technology (SUT) coordinated by Prof Tadeusz Pustelny, PhD Eng, was responsible for initiating the idea of developing the model of the artificial heart. A few years earlier, researchers from the Faculty of Cybernetics of the Military University of Technology (MUT) in Warsaw joined the project, supervised by Krzysztof Murawski, PhD Eng., Leszek Grad, PhD Eng. and Artur Arciuch, PhD Eng.
The key objective of the project was to develop a computerized built-in system, incorporating both software and hardware, which can be used to measure the stroke volume from the chamber of the artificial heart in real time.
These researchers have printed four models of artificial hearts that have been utilized in tests in which specific algorithms were applied to test the efficiency of the models. The safety of surgery is improved by the measuring techniques that are tested with the models of devices used for transplantations. The MUT is currently using three models that are tested with the help of a camera, and SUT uses one model for optic examinations.
The models developed by the team are inspired by the pump for the pneumatic heart assistance device called Religa EXT, which is considered to be a modernized and more efficient version of the POLVAD heart.
Fighting the Figures
Medicine is currently developing rapidly, financed primarily by government funds, grants, or other external sources. However, the available funding is insufficient to support all projects, particularly in cases where research and development involve increased financial input and take several years to conclude. The resulting drawback is that some teams that are comprised of highly educated people with revolutionary ideas are unable to complete their research as they find it difficult to overcome the financial obstacles.
The costs involved in developing an artificial heart and the associated computerized stand are particularly high, as developing the single chamber carries the price tag of 500 000 PLN (130 000 USD).
However, the teams were not discouraged by such high financial outlay and in fact were motivated to search for alternative methods that would enable them to complete their work. The project, named “Center of the Advanced Studies on Engineering Systems,” headed by Tomasz Górski, PhD Eng. enabled the team to purchase Zortrax M200 and commence work on developing the computerized stand and artificial heart.
Meet the Models
The artificial heart model comprised of several parts, including air and blood chambers which were 3D printed on Zortrax M200 with Z-PETG and Z-ULTRAT. The first material was also used to produce a mould to cast the diaphragms.
The process was divided into three stages: firstly the model of a diaphragm was developed in a modeling program; next the total volume of the diaphragm was examined, and then the 3D printing of the cast for sililcone moulds prepared. The thickness of the diaphragms in the working part is max. 1 mm and its volume is 35 ml.
3D printing and assembly of the artificial heart refers to only half of the success in this project, as testing the models also required a professional computerized test stand. For this the teams decided to trust in the quality of Zortrax M200 and use it to 3D print all the required elements. The chamber was comprised of more than 12 types of components, including a wide range of guides, manifolds, and handles.
The Zortrax 3D printer also enabled the team to create a model of the chamber. The additive manufacturing technology enabled all the parts to be developed in a rapid, cost-effective manner, enabling the teams to speed up their study and still stay within their budget. The estimated cost of producing a single artificial heart on Zortrax M200 is 80 PLN (21 USD).
The Matter of a Layer
According to one of the team members, material type and layer thickness significantly help determine the usability and quality of the 3D-printed models. Users can set these parameters in Zortrax M200 devices by selecting from a range between 0.9 to 0.39, based on a specific printing material.
The thickness is inextricably connected with the overall length of the printing time and the level of precision. Selecting the minimum layer thickness ensures that the final result will be the closest to the effects attained by the injection molding machines. Consequently, selecting a thinner layer will provide the smoothest surface which also makes the process of removing the support a lot simpler.
Additionally, the absence of any sizable marks left after the removal of the support, means that the models do not require any further post-processing and can be utilized as end-use products.
The LPD technology offered by Zortrax is well suited to the field of medicine. People within the industry are stating that the technology has immense potential for use in the development of 3D-printed models which can demonstrate specific types of surgery and prototypes of customized prostheses, leading to greater understanding of the processes and devices.
In addition, Zortrax 3D printers help create customized tools that are essential for carrying out specific operations; however, these are not available for purchase. One particularly valuable opportunity that 3D printing presents is the ability to create spare parts for devices, so that tools are repaired quickly; avoiding wastage in both time and money on servicing.
More information on the medical application of 3D printing can be found in an article detailing the production of a Zortrax 3D-printed medical winch.
The case of the artificial heart effectively demonstrates the significant potential of 3D printing in producing essential medical equipment which helps improve the study of life-saving devices. It is amazing how the incorporation of 3D printers can push forward the work on an artificial heart by facilitating model creation and creating the complete computerized test stand.
Such cases provide encouragement for researchers and effectively demonstrate that significant projects can be supported with markedly reduced funding by incorporating this new technology into studies.
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This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Zortrax.
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