Science: 3D-printing a patient’s heart for better treatment

Results of research published in the journal Science Robotics by a team of engineers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), led by Ellen T. Roche, consist in a patient’s 3D-printed heart so as to get a 1:1 scale model that contracts like a real heart, with all its possible defects. Italian researcher Luca Rosalia, a native of the province of Catania, was the one who contributed the most to this research as he developed a robotic heart project while being locked down in his room at the university campus in March 2020.

“All hearts are different. There are massive variations, especially when patients are sick. The advantage of our system is that we can recreate not just the form of a patient’s heart, but also its function in both physiology and disease,” Rosalia explained.

The procedure consists in images of a heart taken for diagnostic purposes which are converted into a digital model by means of a pc and then printed in 3D using a special polymer-based ink.

The result is a soft and flexible shell which has the same shape as that of a heart. The same process can be applied for the aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body. To simulate contractions, both the heart and the aorta must be covered with sheaths (similar to the sleeves of pressure gauges) connected to a pneumatic system with which air is rhythmically injected to induce contraction. The constriction can also be adjusted so as to simulate aortic stenosis.

According to MIT researchers, 3D replicas of the heart will in future help doctors to choose the best artificial valve model to implant. Also, they will be used in research laboratories and by the biomedical industry as platforms for testing new therapies.