A New Supermaterial Lets This Artificial Heart Pump Like the Real Thing

Researchers want it to be used as a prosthetic heart in the future.

by Emiko Jozuka
Oct 15 2015, 12:30pm

The artificial heart created by researchers from Cornell. Image: Cornell University

This red blob with tubes poking out of it is an artificial heart made from a new wonder material called "elastomer foamer."

It's been made by material science engineers from Cornell University, who say their foamy cardiovascular replica could have the potential to stand in as a replacement heart in the future.

In a paper published Thursday in the journal Advanced Materials, researchers describe using a poroelastic silicone (a bit like memory foam in mattresses) and carbon fibre to make their heart's pliant outer shell. The material was great for mimicking the heart owing to its particularly stretchy and porous properties which allow it to pump fluids.

The wonder material can stretch by over 300 percent its initial length and is pliable. The researchers can also structure the pores inside the mould how they like, allowing for more or less fluids to pass through.

The researchers used a 3D printer to create a reusable mould for their heart—a technique which allows future models to be produced quickly and cheaply. They cast their foamy material into the mould and iterated the process, going through various different shapes and styles until they found "an optimal geometry for a pump." They then inserted pneumatic tubes into the foamy structure that allow for fluids and air to be pumped in and out of the artificial heart.

The supermaterial shell acts as an efficient cardiovascular system as its flexible exterior allows it to inflate and deflate just like a regular organic heart.

"This shell is essential for efficient pumping as it directs inflation inwards towards the internal fluid chambers," write the researchers in their paper.

The researchers are working with medical researchers to make their hearts biocompatible, so that they could be used as replacement organs in a real patient's body. Throughout the world there is a real need for replacement organs. In the US alone, an average of 22 people die each day owing to a dearth of donated organs.

"This paper was about exploring the effect of porosity on the actuator [the motor used to power a system], but now we would like to make the foam actuators faster and with higher strength, so we can apply more force," said Shepherd in a press statement.