Lifelike 3D-printed hearts may advance surgical training

A surgeon holds a purple 3-D printed heart, which is flexible but durable.
Credit: Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering

Surgeons, doctors, and biomedical engineers use 3D-printed hearts for surgical training, medical and patient education, and to design medical devices. Engineers from Carnegie Mellon University found using alginate, a compound from algae, holds up during 3D-heart printing and creates a lifelike feel for human heart tissue. The gel-like substance is flexible but durable; it lasted through mock suturing or stitching. Traditional 3D-printed hearts are made with harder plastic or rubber, which looks realistic but would collapse or be difficult to cut through during a simulated surgery. To make the prototypes look and feel realistic, the engineers added an artery filled with fake blood in a section of the heart. The team is now working with surgeons and doctors at hospitals to ensure the models support surgical training and medical needs.

The 3D-printed heart design appears in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering and was partially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.