3D Printed Heart Implants at Nottingham University

by Matthew Wellington on September 24, 2013

Smart Aortic GraftHeart failure is quite a common condition today with a considerable segment of the population falling victims to it.

Typically it is a condition where the heart can no longer pump enough blood through the body at the required pressure.

Usually patients suffering from heart failure have only one option; to get a new organ through a heart transplant.

The greatest challenge for such patients however is that there is often a very high demand but not sufficient supply in terms of available donors.

For example, research in Europe showed that there are approximately 160,000 patients who are in dire need of a heart transplant annually but only about 600 donors come through.

This means more than 95% of the patients who suffer from heart failure do not get a transplant at the end of the day. What’s even worse is such patients normally have to be attached to a device to aid their heart in pumping blood. This literally denies patients any form of mobility as it requires the patient to be wholly bed-ridden.

Good news is that Philip Breedon amongst a team of other researchers at the Nottingham Trent University have come up with a 3D printed heart implant. The implant is battery operated and can enable patients to continue living a normal lifestyle as they wait for a transplant.

How it Works

The implant is made using a smart material which is capable of expanding and contracting when voltage is applied on it. The voltage comes from the attached battery and is basically what keeps the implant pumping blood.

During the active life cycle of the battery; as voltage is applied on the device, the material that the implant is coated with controls the pumping of blood throughout the body by successive expansions and contractions.

According to Philip Breedon and his team, since the implant will be 3D fabricated, it is possible to tailor every implant to be a perfect fit of the patient who needs it. Using 3D printing technology, the device can be fabricated into an accurate shape of the aortic valve of a patient.

This is incredibly important as it increases the success rate of heart implants using this device.
After the implant the patient can therefore continue with their normal life until when they finally get a transplant. So fundamentally no patient will have to rely on a power cable as the device is fully self sufficient.

The only downside that this 3D printed Heart Implant has so far is it is battery operated. The disadvantage that this brings along is that patients will have to occasionally go for surgery in order for the battery to be replaced for continuous efficiency of the device. Going for surgery every time the battery is replaced is a huge shortcoming that may limit the acceptability rate of the implant, despite it posing a lot of benefits.

Scientists and researchers at Nottingham University are still working to come up with better modifications that will overcome this shortcoming. One of the strategies that they are attempting to put in place that can boost its efficiency to a great extent is finding a way of lowering its power usage.

This will make the device last longer, significantly reducing the number of times a patient has to go for a battery replacement surgery. The researchers are also looking for a way in which they can use advanced technology to be able to recharge the battery wirelessly, without any need for surgery.

Benefits of the Implant

First of all, the 3D printed heart implant is far much better than the Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) that is known to confine patients to bed. Think about it this way; with the implant patients will still be able to go to work, make money and still take care of their families while waiting for their turn to receive a heart implant.

The opportunity to get on with ones life will also pose a less traumatic experience for your family as they will not always have to watch over you while in bed. You will be moving around and pretty much doing what you normally do comfortably as the implant is totally self-contained. This reduces worry and apprehension which often troubles the family members of bed-ridden patients.

Statistics show that nearly 40% of the patients who have been diagnosed with heart failure pass on while still waiting for the transplant. Most of such fatal incidents are due to lack of hope as the life of patients typically gets to a standstill because they have to remain bed-ridden.

The smart aortic pump is also a cheaper option than VAD to some extent as one does not have to be attached to a machine until they receive the transplant. Additionally the implant option will prove to be further cost effective if a solution is found to reduce the number of surgeries that are needed to replace the batteries.

Potential Health Threats

Dr Philip Breedon however added that the implant will not necessarily be used on everyone who has a heart failure condition. Before the implant can be given to any patient, several medical tests will be done to assess the body’s acceptance rate of the implant because the 3D Printed Organs or Grafts have their fair share of biological health threats.

According to scientists at Nottingham University, patients may be vulnerable to the risk of atherosclerosis or aneurysms. This is brought about by alteration of the blood flow patterns in the body which can be caused by the placement of a graft that has different material properties to those of the removed section of the aorta, where the 3D graft is supposed to be fitted.

Generally though, a lot of patients will still be eligible for this implant with only a few exceptions. This is vividly the light at the end of the tunnel for patients who were suffering from a damaged heart. Regardless of the flaws that this implant brings forth especially concerning the use of batteries, it is still the best option for many needy patients.

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