Harvard develops a soft robotic sleeve that slips onto the human heart and helps it beat

Researchers from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital have developed a soft robot for cardiac ailments. Unlike existing devices, the robot does not directly come in contact with the blood, and instead slips onto the heart itself. The silicon sleeve and the pneumatic actuators mimic the outer muscle movements of the human heart. As the device does not come in contact with the blood, there is no danger of blood clots, and no need of potentially dangerous blood thinning medications.

The research was published in Science Translational Medicine. The sleeve is compressed in a motion that mimics the beating of the heart, and can be customised according to the size and shape of individual patients. The pressure by the actuators can be increased or decreased over time, depending on how the patient responds to the treatment. If only one part of the heart is weak, then the motion of the robot can be tweaked to assist only the weak parts.

 Conor Walsh, senior author of the paper says “This work represents an exciting proof of concept result for this soft robot, demonstrating that it can safely interact with soft tissue and lead to improvements in cardiac function. We envision many other future applications where such devices can delivery mechanotherapy both inside and outside of the body” Frank Pigula, co-corresponding author of the study says “The cardiac field had turned away from idea of developing heart compression instead of blood-pumping VADs due to technological limitations, but now with advancements in soft robotics it’s time to turn back.”

Soft robotics are is an emerging technology that enable machines to have more human like interactions with their surroundings. Soft robotic fingers can potentially give machines human like dexterity. Soft robots moving like worms can navigate novel and hazardous environments for search and rescue operations. As demonstrated by the soft robotic sleeve for the heart, soft robotics are ideally suited for working with the delicate tissues and muscles within the human body.

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