Customizable Soft Robot Fits Around Heart To Help It Beat


Lending hopes to millions of heart patients, a soft robot has been developed jointly by Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital.

The device can be fit around a heart to make it beat normally and it unveiled a new mode of treatment for heart patients.

The study is published in Science Translational Medicine as a collaborative effort between Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Boston Children's Hospital and Wyss Institute.

In the proof of concept, efforts have been made to address the market needs for low-modulus, implantable devices or soft robots sought in biological functions including contraction of heart muscles.

The soft robotic sleeve is designed to implant around the heart to twist and compress the way a cardiac ventricular assist device (VAD) functions.

The breakthrough is that it does not have to make any contact with blood and eliminates the risk of anti-coagulation therapy or use of blood thinners. It also puts to rest many complications associated with ventricular devices such as clotting and other infections.

Key Highlights

The researchers are hoping that the device will go a long way in assisting a patient needing cardiac rehabilitation and recovery.

While making the new device, Harvard researchers took the cue for the design from the heart itself. Attached to the heart with a suction device, sutures and a gel interface, the sleeve helps in toning down the friction between the device and the heart.

The silicon sleeve is fit around the heart by leveraging air-powered soft actuators that behave like artificial muscles and performs all the twisting and compressing functions as in natural movements. It is tethered to an external pump to draw the air power.

 "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, first author and a former Ph.D. scholar with SEAS.

Benefit Of Customization

What makes the soft robot more appealing is its flexibility of customization in line with the needs of patients.

Supposing the weakness is more pronounced on the left side of the heart, there is the option for actuators to be duly adjusted to give suitable support on that side.

Similarly, the actuators can be regulated for pressure changes as and when the condition of the patient changes.

Frank Pigula, a cardiothoracic surgeon commented that the cardiac field was reluctant in developing a device for heart compression in place of VADs that pump blood because of technological constraints. Now the progress made in soft robotics has accomplished that goal.

Conor Walsh, senior author of the paper also hailed the work and said it was a great proof of concept of the soft robot's ability for safe interaction with soft tissues in enabling improvements in heart function.

He is hoping that many future applications will come up and devices will be able to deliver mechanotherapy internally and externally in the human body.

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