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This Robot Muscle Keeps Pig Hearts Pumping, May Save People Too

Warning: The above video and below images may be considered NSFW, and are not for the faint of heart.

As great as it would be to tackle serious bodily injuries Tony Stark-style with an arc reactor, unfortunately, technologically, we’re just not there yet. This means that when it comes to a mechanical solution for heart failure, the medical community needs to rely on Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs), which have plenty of drawbacks. VADs could improve in the future, however, with the use of a new type of soft robotic muscle that’s now been shown to work for failed pig hearts.

In a story that comes via Ars Technica, researchers from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital have just published research in Science Translational Medicine that demonstrates the use of “a soft robotic sleeve that is implanted around the heart… [that] actively compresses and twists to act as a cardiac ventricular assist device.”

Current VADs (like the one pictured below) must come into direct contact with blood, requiring the use of anticoagulation therapy or blood thinners. They also increase the risk of clotting and infection.

VAD-Current-Body-Image-01202017

A current LVAD. Note how blood must be pulled out of the heart, into a tube, in order to be pumped. 

The “soft robotic sleeve” however, doesn’t require direct contact with blood. Instead, it wraps around the heart, and behaves as an assistive pump. It’s attached with “a combination of a suction device, sutures and a gel interface,” and mimics the pumping motion of the heart using compressed air to force the sleeve to constrict and release.

Soft-Sleeve-Pig-Heart-GIF-01202017

It’s unclear whether the soft robotic sleeve would theoretically require the same type of external system used to power and control current VADs, but regardless, it seems like a step in the right direction.

What do you think about this soft robotic sleeve? Do you think it will replace current VADs? Are you amazed at how helpful pigs are to the scientific community? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Images: Wikimedia / Blausen Medical Communications, Inc., Harvard SEAS / Ellen Roche

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