Customised silicon heart valves

Scientists at ETH Zurich and the South African company Strait Access Technologies are using 3D printing to produce custom-made artificial heart valves from silicone. This could help meet an ageing population’s growing demand for replacement heart valves.

The human heart has four chambers, each equipped with a valve to ensure blood flow in one direction only. If any of the heart valves are leaking, narrowed or distended (or even ruptured), the blood runs back into the atria or ventricles, putting the entire heart under severe strain. In the worst case, this can lead to arrhythmia or even heart failure.

Depending on the severity of the defect, artificial heart valves can be inserted to remedy the problem. Over the next few decades, demand for this type of surgery is likely to soar in many parts of the world due to the ageing population, lack of physical exercise and poor diet. It is estimated that around 850,000 people will require artificial heart valves in 2050.

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