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Researchers create foam that may be used for organs, prosthetics

Using 3D-printed molds, the foam can be formed to meet any geometric requirement.

By Stephen Feller
An artificial, 3D-printed foam heart using a type of porous foam developed by researchers, which they said could be used for a range of prosthetic devices. Photo by Cornell University
An artificial, 3D-printed foam heart using a type of porous foam developed by researchers, which they said could be used for a range of prosthetic devices. Photo by Cornell University

ITHACA, N.Y., Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Researchers at Cornell University created a pumping heart using a poroelastic silicone foam they say could be used in prosthetic body parts, artificial organs and robotics.

The foam is unique because it can be formed, its pores can be changed for tailored uses, and researchers can use additive manufacturing to use it as machinery.

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"We decided to use a heart as an example because it has a complex shape, and it's a machine that everybody is familiar with -- by making a machine that pumps like a heart, we thought it would demonstrate the capability the best," said Rob Shepherd, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ithaca University. "People are now interested in using it."

The material is poured into a mold custom made with a three-dimensional printer. The foam is soft, so pressure is not need to get liquids through the pores, and the material has give -- it can stretch to 300 times its original length.

The researchers said in a press release using things made with foam inside the body will require testing and FDA approval, but that they already are close to manufacturing a prosthetic hand using the same processes that led to the "heart."

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Shepherd said he thinks the material and manufacturing process has application in medicine because they can print a mold in any specific shape, allowing for a variety of shapes and styles to be tried out for the optimal required geometry.

"We actually are working with doctors and people who are familiar with how to turn these devices into useful medical devices," Shepherd said.

The study is published in Advanced Materials.

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