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Medical Breakthrough: Heart Beats With Help Of Soft Robot

Update Date: Jan 19, 2017 06:35 PM EST

People who survive heart attacks end up having heart failure. According to the 2013 report of the American Heart Association, more than five million people in the United States are affected with heart failure and around 41 million people worldwide. In the latest medical breakthrough for heart health, instead of using devices implanted on the heart, scientists were able to help the heart beat with a soft robot.

The soft robotic sleeve, is the latest device developed by scientists from Harvard University to help people with heart failure. The soft robotic device is made with materials similar to the tissues of found in the human heart. It fits snugly around the heart and helps in ventricular functions without ever being in contact with blood.

According to the researchers, whose work is published in Science Translational Medicine, fabrication techniques were exploited that will allow the integration of custom-designed soft pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs) into a design that will perfectly conform to the shape and size of the heart. Compressed air is used to power the soft robotic sleeve.

The soft pneumatic artificial muscles compress and twists mimicking the movements of a normal human heart. It has a stiffness value of the same order of magnitude as that of the tissues found in the heart.

The actuators in the soft robotic sleeve can be controlled to work only on the right side, left side or both sides of the heart under the same or different pressures. The soft robotic device is attached to the heart with the use of a suction device, sutures, and a specialized hydrogel used as a protective layer between the device and the heart.

Unlike the currently used ventricular assist devices (VADs) which help the heart by pumping blood, the soft robotic sleeve is a heart compression device. Anti-coagulant therapy and blood clot formation can be avoided as the soft robotic sleeve is not in contact with blood, unlike the VADs.

Currently, the soft robotic sleeve remains tethered to the machine that supplies compressed air but the researchers are developing a portable version of the device. The soft robotic sleeve portable system has the device tethered to a portable pump and compressed air supplies worn on a belt or backpack.

The soft robot is also customizable to the specific needs of the patient and has the potential to act as a bridge to transplant for patients with heart failure. According to researchers, the soft robotic device is a step towards exploring the unlimited possibilities of soft robotics not only in the field of medicine but in other industries as well.

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