Engineers at MIT have developed a procedure to 3D print soft and flexible, patient-specific replicas of the heart and aorta. By mimicking the pumping action of a patient’s heart, the team hopes to help doctors tailor treatments to the patient’s specific heart form and function, including testing various valve designs to find the best fit and function for the individual.
In a study appearing in Science Robotics, the researchers used a polymer-based ink to 3D print shells in the exact shape of the patient’s heart and aorta, which they then outfitted with sleeves to replicate the pumping action.
“Being able to match the patients’ flows and pressures was very encouraging,” said Ellen Roche, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT.
“We’re not only printing the heart’s anatomy, but also replicating its mechanics and physiology. That’s the part that we get excited about.”
The researchers showed that they could accurately recreate the same heart-pumping pressures and flows that were previously measured in each patient, and that the implanted valve produced similarly improved flows as in actual patients following their surgical implants.
The study also suggests that the heart replicas could be used by research labs and the medical device industry as realistic platforms for testing therapies for various types of heart disease.
Ultimately, patient-specific replicas could help develop and identify ideal treatments for individuals with unique and challenging cardiac geometries.
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