More than 5 million people have a Heart attack annually in the US, and 41 million around the world. A heart attack is a frightening, confusing and extremely stressful experience. To make matters worse the recovery process can be just as tedious.
Past treatments have differed as heart attacks fall under different categories. But they have ranged from open heart surgery, clot dissolving drugs, PCI’s and even pacesetters.
A team of researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital have now come up with a new Robotic Sleeve that will assist heart patients that have survived heart failure so that they can lead healthy lives.
How it works
The primary function of the Soft Robotic Sleeve is to assist the heart to beat regularly, and it is made from a synthetic material that is similar to the tissues found in the heart. The soft robotic sleeve is customized to fit around the heart, and it twists and compresses in sync with the heart.
This aids the cardiovascular functions that are usually weakened by heart failure. The main difference of the soft robotic sleeve, compared to other treatments available, is that it does not get in touch with blood directly. This is of great help as it prevents blood from clotting, meaning the patient does not have to be on blood thinning drugs.
“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, who co-authored the report published in Science Translational Medicine.
Inspiration for the soft robotic sleeve
The researchers say the motivation to develop the soft robotic sleeve, came from the heart itself. The robot has a thin silicone sleeve that uses soft pneumatic actuators that are wrapped around the heart, and they mimic the outer muscle layers of the heart. The actuators twist and compress the sleeve to the rhythm of the heart.
For power, the device is attached to an external pump that uses air to fuel the soft actuators.
The robot can be customized for each patient the researchers say. For example, if the left side of the heart is the weaker side, the actuators are flexible and can be turned to support that side.
The actuators can also increase or decrease pressure, according to the patient’s condition. Also attached to the actuators is a suction device as well as a gel interface which prevents friction between the soft robot and the heart.
Status of the device
Currently, the device has been tested on animals only and has shown great promise. More research needs to be done to implant the device on humans, and this is at an advanced stage. Harvard’s Office of Technology has already applied for a patent for purposes of commercializing the device for the mass market.
The research has provided a breakthrough as more and more people are surviving heart attacks and ending up with heart failure. The flexible robotic device has been developed in such a way that it can work with the soft tissue and assist a weak heart. With time, the heart can recover fully, and that is good news for heart patients.