Robot Hugs Heart to Keep It Beating During Heart Surgery

Robot Hugs Heart to Keep It Beating During Heart Surgery PHOTOGRAPH: Ruth Hartnup | Star Wars heart from Ruth Hartnup/FLICKR with CC by 2.0

Engineers at the Harvard University developed a soft robot that envelopes the heart and helps to keep it beating. The project has been successful when tested on animals and has high hopes of getting tested on humans in the future. It is believed to minimize heart failures and restore blood flow into hearts indefinitely.

How The Soft Robot Work?

The soft robot fits like a glove or cocoon around the cardio-vascular organ and without coming in direct contact with blood. Unlike the current heartbeat aiding devices, this robot reduces the chances of getting blood clots. Hence, a patient fitted with this device, does not have to take blood thinning medications, which often prove to be risky.

“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,” said Ellen T. Roche, the paper’s first author and former PhD student at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and The Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. After being fitted, the robot can expand and contract its body to replicate a pumping heart. Experiments were conducted on six pigs, using the robot, which turn out positive results but only up to a certain point.

Limitations Of The Soft Robot

Cardiac arrests were induced in the pigs followed by the use of the device. The robot did restore blood flow for 15 minutes. But it also led to the inflation of heart tissue after continued use for 2 hours, reported Popular Science. Covering the heart in hydrogel prior to placing the device also did not work. This suggests that a long road lay ahead for researchers to make this device completely safe for use.

Something that also needs to be reevaluated is the size of the device. The device is currently bulky and had external air compressors attached to it to help it function. Unless a more compact version of the device is developed, that is portable, it cannot be implanted in humans.

However, the device certainly has the potential to reduce heart failure that 5.7 million Americans currently suffer from. About $32 billion is spent a year trying to check cardiac arrests. “We envision many other future applications where such devices can deliver mechanotherapy both inside and outside of the body,” said Conor Walsh, senior author of the paper and the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS and Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute.

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