A robotic sleeve that help failing hearts continue to pump blood has been developed by scientists based in Harvard and the Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts in the US in collaboration with scientists based in Leeds in the UK. In their early study, the scientists have shown the concept to work on pig hearts.
The soft sleeve was inspired by the actions and structure of real heart muscle, the scientists say.
Made of material that mimics heart muscles, the robotic sleeve hugs the outside of the heart and squeezes it, imitating the action of cardiac muscle. The silicon-based device stiffens or relaxes when inflated with pressurized air.
In the UK, more than half a million people suffer from heart failure, an illness that renders the heart unable to pump blood around the body properly – mostly due to damage in cardiac muscles, after a heart attack, for example.
Fixing the device around six pig hearts, the scientists found they were able to synchronize the sleeve with each heart’s shape and movements.
The study shows the robotic sleeve helped boost the amount of blood being pumped around the body. The sleeves also helped restore blood flow when the hearts stopped beating.
Currently, mechanical devices can be implanted in the heart to help it pump. But because they are in direct contact with heart tissue, the body can react to them – leading to the risk of dangerous blood clots.
Researchers argue their sleeve could help cut this risk by “hugging” the outside of the heart rather than being implanted inside it.
But they acknowledge their research is still at an early stage and much longer-term animal studies and then human studies would need to be carried out before it could be used in patients.