Robotic heart sleeve helps pump blood around the body

19th January 2017

Scientists from around the world have developed a sleeve that fits around the heart and helps it pump.

The sleeve can squeeze the heart like the action of heart muscle and should be able to help people with heart failure.

Early trials, published in Science Translational Medicine, show the model can work on pig hearts.

Engineers in America, Germany, Ireland and Leeds have been working on the project. The device, a robotic sleeve, is made from materials similar to that of heart tissue. The sleeve sits snugly around the heart, compressing it to mimick the movements of a normal heart.  But unlike usual heart pumps, called left ventricular assist devices, the new device has no contact with patients’ blood and so is unlikely to increase the risk of blood clots forming.

The sleeve uses compressed air to power artificial silicone muscles. The researchers 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 sleeve increased the heart’s pumping power in a laboratory and when implanted in adult pigs who had had a cardiac arrest.

Researchers said the sleeve could be customised to patients’ specific needs and may be able to help patients while they wait for a heart transplant.

Heart failure can affect people with cardiomyopathy, especially those with dilated cardiomyopathy. If they have heart failure, their hearts are unable to pump sufficient blood for the body’s needs, leaving them with symptoms such as breathlessness and fatigue. 

Cardiomyopathy UK’s support nurse Robert Hall said: “This is a novel approach to treating heart failure. Previous attempts have been made to support the heart by using devices that 'hug' the heart and improve its structure. This appears to advance this concept with the addition of a pumping action to enhance the heart's efficiency. It will be interesting to see how the research develops.”

For more details, see here