The future of beating heart

 6 minute read

A heart is an epicenter of human life. Nevertheless, according to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. In 2016, over 15 million people died due to heart attack and stroke. The health sector is devoted to finding long-term preventative solutions that would be personalized to patient characteristics.

A new silicon

Heart used to be an irreplaceable organ unless it comes from another human being. The lines for a heart transplant is long and chances for its acceptance by the body are low and stressful. However, the latest technological developments allowed looking at a human body in a new way. In the future, the body withdrawals symptoms will be approached as an engineering issue. By the end of this century, the new evolution of doctors will be able to engineer body parts and replace them with their mechanical twins.

While separate mechanical parts are already in use helping the heart to beat, Swiss doctors are looking for a more drastic change. Nicholas Cohrs with his team 3D-printed an artificial heart. It is made out of soft and flexible materials and can be molded according to personalized dimensions. 3D printing allows designing a complex inner structure that resonates with the real human heart. As the result, the silicon mold imitates a realistic human heartbeat.

Nevertheless, the artificial heart is far away from substituting a human heart. At the moment, the heart lasts for 3,000 beats. In perspective, it performs for no longer than 45 minutes. Cohrs explains: “This was simply a feasibility test. Our goal was not to present a heart ready for implantation, but to think about a new direction for the development of artificial hearts.”

Bioprinting organs
from patients’ blood cells

Another group of researchers takes an idea of artificial heart even further. “By quickening the procedure of manufacturing and design, 3D printing helps lower the costs of much-needed medical devices, be it prosthetics or even organ cells. It will truly be amazing to witness a real-life organ entirely via 3D printing. It would certainly be a much-needed breakthrough,” says Eric Johnson, CEO of Rev.1 Engineering. The issue with any organ transplant is that body rejects external cells. However, if the transplant is built by from patients’ own cells, the life expectancy after the surgery extends tremendously.

Biotech start-up in Chicago intends to do exactly that. Biolife4D develops a technology and framework of creating identical to patients’ but healthy heart. Doctors will transform blood cells into the stem and then into heart cells. Those new heart cells will be used as a bio-ink to 3D print a new fully functional heart. “When we’re done ‘bioprinting,’ we have something that looks like a heart, but it’s just individual cells in proper places,” says the founder of the startup, Steven Morris. “Within a couple of days, the cells just know . . . ‘I’m a heart cell, you’re a heart cell, we’re supposed to join together and start beating.’ And they do that.” While there are many companies looking into bioprinting, Biolife4D is the first one so far to use equity crowdfunding.

Proactive actions
to be taken beforehand

Currently, people are screened for a number of deadly diseases like cancer even before developing corresponding symptoms. The benefit of early detection is undeniable. For instance, more than 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer on early stages have a survival length for over 5 years. The heart-related disease can be detected in early stages as well using real-time monitoring tools. Nowadays professional wearable technologies are bulky and uncomfortable for daily use. Nevertheless, with the development of smart watches, it will become possible to detect irregularity of heartbeat. “If your watch could detect it based on the rhythms that it could be measuring, then it could better allow you to get treatment early and prevent that stroke,” says Eric Peterson, a professor of medicine at Duke University and a member of the American Heart Association, to The Verge. Thus, technological giant, Apple, is joining to the future of eHealth. Apple’s last Watch app Cardiogram claims to diagnose afib with 97 percent accuracy. Moreover, the company partners up with Sanford University to rub the Apple Heart Study.

Looking for a new way of preventative care, The Genomic Risk Score test offers to see if a person is born with a predisposition to heart disease. Senior author Sir Nilesh Samani says that such tests will allow true prevention when identifying a risk group before they develop a disease. He says: “Applying it could provide the most cost-effective way of preventing the enormous burden of coronary heart disease, by helping doctors select patients who would most benefit from interventions.” Nevertheless, knowledge of being at the risk group might drastically influence a person’s lifestyle limiting from the opportunities rather than empowering them.

Robot to perform
complicated surgeries

While the full level of disease prevention is not expected in the nearest time by any futurists, a robot-assisted surgery is on rise. According to Allied Market Research, the global surgical robotics market is likely to reach $98 billion by 2024. Robotic heart surgery is a minimally invasive operation. The benefits of such a method include fewer complications, less pain and blood loss, quicker recovery, and smaller scars. Thus, robots quickly find residence in surgeon offices. In 2017, 67 percent of all of Intuitive Surgical‘s da Vinci robots have been installed. The family of da Vinci Surgical Systems is used in over 66 countries worldwide. Moreover, the company has reported 25% jump in sales led by the shipments of the systems.

At the same time, London Health Sciences Centre cardiac surgery chief Bob Kiaii with his team has performed the world first robotic surgery to replace a key heart valve using the da Vinci systems. The robot allows doctors to see a three-dimensional image that is not possible with conventional cameras. “We have been working for some time to perfect this procedure, knowing it would be of great benefit to some of our patients,” said Dr. Kiaii. “By using the robot, we were able to perform this surgery much more easily without disturbing the breastbone, with much better visualization. This results in far less traction on the ribcage, and reduced trauma to the surrounding area.”

Those developments show that there is a place for robots in the surgeon room. Moreover, the new type of telemedicine is coming up allowing performing medical invasion on distance.

Insight Box

In the future, the "broken heart" will be replaced with a new one. An ability to combine a bio-ink with 3D printer technology allows printing new personalized organs. Moreover, robot-assisted surgeries decline the risks connected to the consequences of open surgeries. The future of e- and robotic- health is bright and rich. White at the moment, all of the technologies are an investment, the future potential for saving human lives is undeniable.

#3D printed heart #bioink #future trends #gene editing #Heart transplant #Robot-assisted surgery
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