Researchers have developed a customizable soft robot that fits around a heart and helps it beat, potentially opening new treatment options for people suffering from heart failure.
The soft robotic sleeve twists and compresses in synch with a beating heart, augmenting cardiovascular functions weakened by heart failure. Unlike currently available devices that assist heart function, the soft robotic sleeve does not directly contact blood, reducing the risk of clotting. The device could be used until a patient can receive a transplant, or to aid in cardiac rehabilitation and recovery.
The thin silicone sleeve uses soft pneumatic actuators placed around the heart to mimic the outer muscle layers of the mammalian heart. The device is tethered to an external pump that uses air to power the soft actuators. The sleeve can be customized for each patient; for example, if a patient has more weakness on the left side of the heart, the actuators can be tuned to give more assistance on that side. The pressure of the actuators can also increase or decrease over time as the patient's condition evolves. The sleeve is attached to the heart using a combination of a suction device, sutures, and a gel interface to help with friction between the device and the heart.
More research needs to be done before the sleeve can be implanted in humans, but the research is an important first step towards an implantable soft robot that can augment organ function.