Research ArticleCardiovascular Disease

Soft robotic sleeve supports heart function

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Science Translational Medicine  18 Jan 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 373, eaaf3925
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf3925

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Robots have a change of heart

Ventricular assist devices help failing hearts function by pumping blood but require monitoring and anticoagulant therapy to prevent blood clot formation. Roche et al. created a soft robotic device with material properties similar to those of native heart tissue that sits snugly around the heart and provides ventricular assistance without ever contacting blood. The robotic sleeve uses compressed air to power artificial silicone muscles that compress and twist, mimicking the movements of the normal human heart. The authors show that the artificial muscles could be selectively activated to twist, compress, or simultaneously perform both actions on one side or both sides of the heart. The device increased cardiac ejection volume in vitro and when implanted in adult pigs during drug-induced cardiac arrest.


There is much interest in form-fitting, low-modulus, implantable devices or soft robots that can mimic or assist in complex biological functions such as the contraction of heart muscle. We present a soft robotic sleeve that is implanted around the heart and actively compresses and twists to act as a cardiac ventricular assist device. The sleeve does not contact blood, obviating the need for anticoagulation therapy or blood thinners, and reduces complications with current ventricular assist devices, such as clotting and infection. Our approach used a biologically inspired design to orient individual contracting elements or actuators in a layered helical and circumferential fashion, mimicking the orientation of the outer two muscle layers of the mammalian heart. The resulting implantable soft robot mimicked the form and function of the native heart, with a stiffness value of the same order of magnitude as that of the heart tissue. We demonstrated feasibility of this soft sleeve device for supporting heart function in a porcine model of acute heart failure. The soft robotic sleeve can be customized to patient-specific needs and may have the potential to act as a bridge to transplant for patients with heart failure.

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