Engineers Are Developing A 'Heart Sleeve' That Can Keep Your Heart Pumping During Heart Failure

This soft robot could keep you alive.

Heart failure is a condition where the heart is still working, but it can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. It affects approximately 5.7 million Americans and 50 percent of those who develop it die within five years of diagnosis.

Engineers at Harvard University are working on a soft robot that could help get people's hearts pumping blood properly again.

The team is working on an air-powered sleeve that can be slipped over the heart to assist in blood flow thanks to the way continuously inflates and deflates. The group's study on the soft robot explains, "The robotic sleeve uses compressed air to power artificial silicone muscles that compress and twist, mimicking the movements of the normal human heart."

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As they point out, the "heart sleeve" is different compared to other ventricular assist devices because it doesn't actually come in contact with the blood, thus it reduces the chances of complications and infections. Furthermore, it does not require anticoagulant therapy to prevent blood clot formation.

So far, the concept has only been tested on animals, but it holds potential for those who are in need of a transplant or for those who are in cardiac recovery. Ellen T. Roche, the study's first author and former PhD student at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, explains, "This research demonstrates that the growing field of soft robotics can be applied to clinical needs and potentially reduce the burden of heart disease."

As co-author Conor Walsh told Harvard Magazine, research on the heart sleeve has exciting implications for non-cardiac patients as well.

"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," Walsh told the publication. "We envision many other future applications where such devices can deliver mechanotherapy, both inside and outside of the body."

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