When you’re writing a blog I always find it helps to have a compelling image or video to go along with it. Today I have managed to rustle up a video of a pig’s heart inside a robotic sleeve, so that should just about do it.
The fist sized device is designed to improve the circulation of blood during heart failure. This isn’t the first implant that has been invented to help the heart to do its job but it is certainly the simplest and, thus far, most effective.
The robot is a soft one comprised mostly of silicone that snugly fits around the heart. As you can see from the images there are bands going around the device that contract to mimic the action of the heart beating. What you cannot see is that there is a second layer that contracts longitudinally in sync with the visible layer; this allows the device to twist as well as compress – think of wringing out washing as well as just squishing it.
The big advantage of this new robotic sleeve is that it sits outside of the circulatory system thus reducing the chance of introducing an infection and removing the need for anticoagulants.
To test the sleeve they chemically induced heart failure in pigs, measured the rate of flow of blood during heart failure and then again with the sleeve fitted. Without the sleeve blood flow was about 1 litre/minute; with the sleeve it was pretty much back to normal at 2.5 litres/minute.
Publishing in Science Translational Medicine, Ellen Roche and her co-authors note that there are 5.7 million Americans currently suffering some degree of heart failure and with only 2100 heart donors per year there are simply not enough to go round. The new device is not designed or expected to sit inside someone indefinitely like a pacemaker does, but it certainly has the potential to extend the lives of those in most need to give them the best possible chance of survival.