A team of engineers and physicians has developed a soft robot implant that hugs the heart and helps it to pump.
Made from specially prepared rubber and plastics, the implant device wraps around the heart like a rope and squeezes the organ to help move blood through body. Electronic components within the robot synchronize the mechanical squeezing and twisting to the heart's natural rhythm.
The heart-hugging robot has only been tested on animals so far, but if the technique proves viable for humans, it could be a life-saving option for patients who otherwise can only be helped with heart transplants.
Heart failure — a condition in which the heart is unable to generate sufficient blood flow — affects around 5.7 million people in the US each year, according to a paper describing the device, published Nov. 22 in the journal Science Robotics.
Currently available devices can assist heart function in a similar manner, but the new soft robot device adds several critical improvements, said Nikolay Vasilyev of Harvard Medical School and co-author of the new research.
“While there have been devices that 'hug' the entire surface of both heart ventricles, this is a brand new approach that 'hugs' and engages only one — the diseased ventricle,” Vasilyev told Seeker. “The healthy ventricle stays intact. Importantly, this is the first device that engages the inner structure of the heart — interventricular septum — that plays a very important role in heart contraction.”