Soft Robot Sleeve Helps a Failing Heart Pump Blood [VIDEO]

By Charissa Echavez, | January 20, 2017

An emerging study shows that this soft robotic sleeve could help failing hearts pump blood.

An emerging study shows that this soft robotic sleeve could help failing hearts pump blood.

Researchers have developed an innovative soft robotic sleeve that fits around the heart and helps it pump. The device, which syncs with the natural beating rhythm of the heart, could potentially open a new breakthrough for patients suffering from heart failure.

"It's designed for heart failure patients who have reduced pumping function and can't meet the demands of the body," Dr. Ellen Roche, a researcher at NUI Galway in Ireland, said. "The main advantage compared to existing solutions is that it doesn't come into contact with the blood, which helps reduce complications like clotting or potential strokes."

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The sleeve is made up of a thin silicone layer with soft actuators wrapping around the heart, the Digital Trends noted. The device works as an external pump and utilizes air to power the actuators, allowing the sleeve to mimic the heart's movements by twisting and compressing.

Interestingly, the sleeve could be adjusted based on the patient's needs and its control system can be synchronized with the patient's heart beat. Moreover, sleeve actuators can also measure the pressure the device is exerting and could initiate movements on one or both sides of the heart.

The research team behind the device is from Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital. The paper has been published on the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

So far, the study is still on its research phase and the device is yet to undergo human trial. The experiment, however, has yielded positive results when tested on a synthetic heart and live pigs.

The soft robotic sleeve was able to restore the pig model's cardiac output to about 97 percent, up from a baseline of 45 percent.

"We'll need to do a lot more testing before we can think about moving to humans. It's a few years off, at least," Roche said.

Based on the figures from the American Heart Association, an estimated 5.7 million people from the US are afflicted with heart failure. 

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