In the human heart, four valves ensure that the blood is directed in the right direction. It is crucial that the heart valves open and close properly. To ensure this function, the heart valve tissue has a heterogeneous structure, which means that the heart valves have different biomechanical properties within their structure.
A research team led by Petra Mela, Professor of Medical Engineering Materials and Implants at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), and Professor Elena De-Juan Pardo from the University of Western Australia, has now imitated this heterogeneous structure for the first time using a 3D printing process called “Melt Electrowriting”. Melt electrowriting is a comparatively new additive manufacturing process that uses high voltage electricity to form precise patterns from a very thin polymer fiber. Using a specially developed manufacturing platform, individual patterns and their combinations can be printed, allowing various mechanical properties within the basic structure of a heart valve to be precisely matched. The scaffolds from the 3D printer, which are made of medically approved polycaprolactone (PCL), should make it possible to form new tissue in the patient from the body’s own cells. In the long term, this should result in heart valve implants that grow with the patient.
“Our goal is to create bioanalogous heart valves that promote the formation of new functional tissue in the patient. Children in particular could benefit from such a solution, as currently available heart valves do not grow with the patient and therefore need to be replaced in multiple procedures over the years. Our heart valves, on the other hand, mimic the complexity of the body’s own heart valves and are designed to allow the patient’s body cells to infiltrate the supporting scaffold,” Professor Mela explained.
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