You may have seen a New Scientist story recently about how Peter Walters of the University of West England (UWE) (Coincidentally Personalize had a 3D printing race on twitter last week) has created an “artificial heartbeat” using 3D printed structures.
The project is part of an on-going development to create Ecobot, a robot that can digest food and sewage to power itself. Walter’s artificial heartbeat could just be the start and they’re hoping the muscle will eventually be able to pump the food around the body of this ecological automaton. The project was carried out in collaboration with Ioannis Ieropoulos and David McGoran You can read the full paper here.
The heartbeat is powered by living material; using gas that is generated by live yeast to bloat and retract a membrane. Although the yeast, which Walters told New Scientist makes the lab smell like a brewery, may be organic but the flexible and rigid structures of the robotic heart are 3D printed.
This was the part that really interested us so Personalize got in touch with Peter Walters to ask him how he was first alerted to 3D printing and what the benefits for bioengineering are. Here’s what he told us:
"I think 3D bio-printing is one of the most exciting emerging fields in 3D printing today and is likely to have a very significant impact in the future. Research taking place in university laboratories around the world focuses on such areas as: drug development, artificial organs , bio-robotics, and 3D printing of novel foodstuffs.
I first became aware of 3D printing in the biosciences some years ago, when I saw the Fuji Dimatix inkjet printer at an IS&T Digital Fabrication conference, and heard that it had been used to successfully print living yeast and bacterial cultures
For our “Artificial Heartbeat” actuator we used 3D printing to fabricate the external enclosure and components for the heart valve mechanism. 3D printing was also used to fabricate moulds, which were used to cast the soft silicone membrane that pulsates in and out when the actuator is working.
Because multi-material printing is possible - printing hard and soft materials in the same build (Objet Connex 3D printer) and also because live yeast and foodstuffs can be printed, we anticipate that in the near future, through a convergence in these technologies, it will be possible to print the complete Artificial Heartbeat actuator all in one go, including external enclosure, soft membrane, a valve mechanism, living yeast and food for the yeast (e.g. sugar).
We expect that in this way it will be possible to 3D print cyborg-like machines composed of living biological elements and artificial mechanical elements. Such technologies will not only be of interest in science, medicine and robotics, but also in the emerging field of bio-robotic art and design."