About 41 million people suffer from heart failure around the world. Though heart transplant is the best option to save a patient, lack of donors sometimes makes the situation more complicated. However, researchers at Harvard University developed a new soft robot that can keep a failing heart beating.
Robot that hugs your heart
The soft robot is basically a sleeve with silicone muscle that wraps around a biological heart and syncs up with the heart’s existing rhythm. Through a combination of compressing and twisting movements, it helps the heart to beat. An external pump attached to the soft robot powers its actuators using air. The best part is the sleeve could be customized for patients with different requirements. Also, the pressure of actuator could increase or decrease as required.
The device is still a prototype and so far has only been tested on a synthetic heart and live pigs. It’s not even perfect as it caused inflammation from all the twisting, squeezing, and friction. The researchers used hydrogel to cushion the space between the pig heart and the soft robot, which somewhat reduced the inflammation. So, it still requires a long-term study to develop something that will prevent the inflammation.
The concept of this soft robot is quite promising. Researchers hope it will one day replace devices called ventricular assist devices, or VADs. VAD keeps blood flowing by re-routing the blood around the heart to the blood vessels leading to or away from it. However, it’s not that reliable as there is a possibility of blood clotting and people still need to use blood thinners to avoid that. The soft robot doesn’t come into the contact of blood, meaning there is less possibility of clotting or strokes.
As its still in research phase, it will take at least a few years to use this device on a human. However, with 41 million heart patient around the world, let’s just hope this time will come soon.