Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital have unveiled a powered soft robotic system that wraps around the heart to help augment the cardiac output. Reminiscent of a heart massage, the device makes intimate contact with the organ and contracts with its natural rhythm, applying force to give the heart additional strength.
While left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) already help many people with ailing hearts to live better and longer, they can lead to terrible side effects such as stroke, and require patients to be on blood thinners that bring their own complications.
Unlike LVADs, the soft robot does not actually come in contact with the blood, nor does it create unusual turbulence LVADs generate that is responsible for unwanted hematologic effects.
The device consists of a silicone exterior, which can be customized for individual patients, with pneumatic actuators on the inside. An external air pump moves air in and out of the actuators. The actuators compress the device inward and are placed around where the compression would help the heart beat easier, effectively creating a heart pump that doesn’t at all interface with blood.
“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,” said Frank Pigula, a cardiothoracic surgeon and one of the authors of the study. “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.”
Study in Science Translational Medicine: Soft robotic sleeve supports heart function…