One day, prosthetic organs and limbs might be made of a material not unlike memory foam. Cornell University researchers have developed a stretchy, light foam that could be made into an artificial hand, an artificial organ, or a soft robot.
In the journal Advanced Materials, Cornell engineers demonstrate that the so-called elastomeric foam can be used to create a pump that works like an artificial heart. The material can stretch hundreds of times its initial length, and can be fashioned so that parts of it expand at different rates, allowing a sphere to be inflated and keep its shape, for instance.
The artificial heart was created inside a 3D-printed mold. The material is porous, and those pores can be adjusted to change the amount of liquid that flows through the foam. When air or liquid is pumped through it, the material changes its shape, expanding like a beating heart.
While the researchers are also considering elastomeric foam for robotics and for prosthetic limbs, they say it has medical potential as an implantable device. Because it’s malleable and cheap to make, “we could even tailor it to a patient’s particular heart,” study co-author Rob Shepherd says in a promotional video.
However, pillow-soft hearts may be a ways away. The material would have to first undergo testing and gain approval from the FDA.