Pigs have been fitted with a robotic heart
Researchers have developed a soft robotic sleeve which twists and compresses in synchronisation with a heart to help people who have weaker hearts.
The team from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital created the device which does not come into contact with blood, unlike similar devices today, minimising the risk even more.
The device also reduces the need for patients to take potentially dangerous blood thinning medications.
The thin silicon sleeve of the robotic heart is attached to the actual heart through pneumonic actuators which match the beat.
Ellen Rouche/Harvard SEAS
The robotic sleeve which fits over the heart
An external pump is attached, which uses air to power the device and each sleeve is customised to the individual.
A study from the team saw six pigs fitted with the device, with promising results as there was little inflammation and better blood flow.
Ellen T Roche, the paper’s first author and a former Ph.D. student at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), said: “This research demonstrates that the growing field of soft robotics can be applied to clinical needs and potentially reduce the burden of heart disease and improve the quality of life for patients.”
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Conor Walsh, senior author of the paper from John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, added: “This work represents an exciting proof-of-concept result for this soft robot, demonstrating that it can safely interact with soft tissue and lead to improvements in cardiac function.
“We envision many other future applications where such devices can delivery mechanotherapy both inside and outside of the body.”
Heart failure affects around 41 million people worldwide.
Current treatments at the moment include ventricular assist devices (VADs) which work by pumping blood from the heart’s ventricles to the aorta.
However, a common issue among people who are fitted with VADs are blood clots and strokes, which is why the scientists wanted to make something safer.
The robotic sleeve could save millions of lives
Frank Pigula, a cardiothoracic surgeon and co-corresponding author on the study, who was formerly clinical director of paediatric cardiac surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, said: “The cardiac field had turned away from idea of developing heart compression instead of blood-pumping VADs due to technological limitations, but now with advancements in soft robotics it’s time to turn back.
“Most people with heart failure do still have some function left; one day the robotic sleeve may help their heart work well enough that their quality of life can be restored.”