Researchers from the Cybernetics Department of the Military University of Technology in Warsaw and the Optoelectronics Department of the Silesian University of Technology have been using 3D printed heart models for research purposes.
3D printing, like any burgeoning area of technology, has both its champions and its skeptics. But whatever one’s position on the industry as a whole, there is one area in which its usefulness is rarely doubted: medicine. Over the last few years, additive manufacturing has been used by medical professionals and researchers to create a variety of models, surgical guides, and bioprinted body parts, contributing to the welfare of countless patients.
Many areas of medical research have benefitted from 3D printing, but research concerning the human heart remains a particularly important and enduring project. 3D printed heart models help to save lives on a daily basis, and research is taking place across the globe that could someday produce a functional, 3D printed artificial heart which could be implanted in a human body. A group of Polish researchers is working somewhere in between those two goals, working with 3D printer manufacturer and compatriotZortrax to build a number of 3D printed hearts which could contribute to the safety and efficacy of future artificial hearts, 3D printed or otherwise.
The 3D printing research group consists of a number of Polish academics across two universities: Dr. Krzysztof Murawski, PhD, Dr. Leszek Grad, PhD, and Dr. Artur Arciuch, PhD, all from the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, and Prof. Tadeusz Pustelny and his team from the Silesian University of Technology. Their collective goal is to use 3D printed heart models to develop innovative methods of analysis and measurement which rely on artificial neural networks and the use of augmented realities in sensory technology.
These tests are performed on cardiac chamber models, 3D printed using the M200 3D printer from Zortrax, an FDM 3D printer with a 200 x 200 x 180 mm build volume and 90-400 micron resolution. That 3D printer was initially the subject of a 2013 Kickstarter campaign, with 144 backers helping to bring the popular machine into mass production. The 3D printed models created with the M200 each consist of a hematic chamber, pneumatic chamber, and membrane, with both the hematic and pneumatic chambers fully 3D printed. The membrane is not itself 3D printed, but a 3D printed mold is used to shape the silicone or rubber into the correct shape.
The researchers are using the 3D printed heart models to verify scientific hypotheses and to perform experimental research which could help increase the safety of future artificial hearts. By 3D printing the heart models, the research team has been able to save a significant amount of money and perform a broader range of research than would have been possible with commercially available models.