•Researchers utilized soft robotics to design a silicon device that “hugs” the heart by narrowing when the actuators within it are filled with pressurized air.
•With more than 41 million people afflicted by cardiovascular disease worldwide, a device like this could save numerous lives and avert countless others from suffering.
Researchers at Harvard University and other associating institutions have invented a robot that hugs your heart to keep it pumping blood. Their research is in response to the drawbacks of traditional ventricular assist devices (VADs), which extract blood from the heart before pumping it back into the aorta or pulmonary artery. The problem is that these artificial devices are in direct contact with the blood, which increases the risk of blood clots.
Harvard graduate student Ellen Roche and her advisor Conor Walsh decided to make a similar device, except their device, never comes in direct contact with blood. They used soft robotics, contraptions made of flexible materials, to work with the complex rhythms of the heart.
The silicon device is radically a sleeve that contains actuators that contract when filled with pressurized air.
Credit: Ellen Roche- Harvard University
When the device is installed around a heart, these contractions can be used to keep the heart pumping, and the action of the device can be controlled by adjusting the airflow. “Even as a patient’s disease position changes, you could adjust the level of assistance provided by the sleeve,” Roche told IEEE Spectrum. The work is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The crew experimented their creation on pig cadavers, an artificial heart, and even a live pig with a failing heart. When the device was attached to the live pig, it restored blood flow back to baseline. Though many more animal tests will be needed first, the crew hopes to conduct a longer-term study on human participants at some point in the future, as well as research how they could reduce inflammation on the heart’s surface.
Heart disease costs billions of dollars overall and affects more than 41 million people globally. Every year, the medical industry proposes new potential treatment options and even cures, but thus far has failed to produce a clear-cut solution to the problem. If this invention proves successful on human subjects, it has the potential to save millions of lives.