valves imprimées en 3D

Researchers 3D-print heart valves that can grow in the body – 3 times the original population

A team of researchers recently announced that they have developed a new form of 3D-printed heart valve. These parts are designed to give the patient’s cells the opportunity to form new cells and grow with the rest of the body. This development should help reduce complications associated with transplants. As you know, the use of additive manufacturing in the medical sector has grown exponentially because it has allowed scientists and clinicians to explore possibilities that were completely unimaginable only a few years ago. The project is still in the research and development stage but nonetheless represents a major advance for the health sector.

The team includes Petra Mila, Professor of Medical Materials and Implants at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), and Professor Elena de Joanne Pardo from the University of Western Australia. Together, they worked to create 3D-printed heart valves, which could be used as implants for life, given their ability to create new tissue. Using additive manufacturing techniques, combined with proprietary biodegradable materials, professionals have been able to create implants that replicate the unique complexities of a human organ.

Highly detailed 3D printed valves (Image credits: Andreas Heddergott/TUM)

Although there are other types of heart valve implants, their use almost always comes with different complications. Mechanical valves, for example, tend to form blood clots on metal surfaces, which can lead to serious complications. In addition, patients should take blood thinners for life and limit their physical activity. Another downside is that these valves cannot grow and must eventually be replaced, as Petra Mila explains: Our goal is to design bio-inspired heart valves that promote the formation of new functional tissues in patients. Children will especially benefit from this solution, because the existing heart valves do not grow with the patient and need to be replaced over the years in multiple surgeries. On the other hand, our heart valves mimic the complexity of natural heart valves and are designed to allow patient cells to leak into the scaffold. »

Using a special technology for 3D-printed heart valves

In order to be able to mimic the exact biological structures of human organs, the researchers turned to a new additive manufacturing technique, called “dissolved electrowriting.” It is basically an extrusion process in which the polymer is heated, melted and expelled from the print head as a liquid jet. However, the peculiarity of this process lies in the use of a high-voltage electric field, which is applied to the plane and makes the resulting fibers as thin as five to fifty micrometers, allowing the machine to print in a very detailed manner and to produce extremely accurate models. To ensure the best materials were used for the implant, the team chose to use medical grade polycaprolactone (PCL), which is cell-compatible and biodegradable.

Petra Milla, Professor of Clinical Materials and Implants at the Technical University of Munich

As mentioned earlier, the long-term goal is to create pediatric implants that can stay inside the body and grow with the patient. The hope is that over time the cells settle into microporous spaces, which are smaller than the pores in the PCL structure. Although there is still a long way to go, the team is convinced that this is a significant improvement for people with heart valve disease and will soon move to animal trials. To learn more about the project, click here.

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*Cover image credits: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

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