Innovation From the Heart

It may not be something that most people think about, but organs aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, the number of heart transplants in the US has hovered around 3,000 per year for the past few years with about 4000 on the waiting list at any one time. To put it in perspective, the Heart Failure Society of America estimates that about 6.5 million American adults are living with heart failure, which makes up about 8.5% of deaths due to heart disease each year… that’s about 500,000 deaths each year. The worst part is that despite modern medicine making great improvements in medications for heart failure, after someone has this diagnosis, half of them will only live 5 years on average. For more advanced heart failure, only about 10-20% of them will be alive at 1 year.

CG Heart
Video by DrJanaOfficial (Own Work), used under CC license

Ok, you get the point. The exciting part is that although heart transplantation has plateaued for various reasons we won’t get into (mainly not enough donors), a lot of innovation has gone into creating new technology that can be considered heart replacement therapy. Various types of implantable pumps – called ventricular assist devices (VAD) – have been developed. Their usage is certainly on the rise to bridge the gap between those needing a heart transplant and the lack of suitable donors to get one.

New out of Switzerland, engineers have created a silicon model of a “real” heart. The anatomy is different, but they’ve shown as a proof of concept that their heart works! Their theory is that instead of current VADs that involve metal and moving parts, which can contribute toward complications, a device that functions more like a normal beating heart may be better.

It’s still hot off the press and likely still far from being able to be used clinically, but it’s cool stuff! Who would have thought that people would use 3D printers to print organs?

Tell us what you think!

Leave a Reply