Scientists design soft robotic system to assist cardiac function in children with one-sided heart conditions

Scientists have designed a soft robotic system with artificial muscles capable of assisting cardiac function in children who have one-sided heart conditions.

Soft robotic actuators, designed and programmed to perform lifelike motions, are now available to patients instead of rigid components that have conventionally been used in biomedical devices.

Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital in the US, had earlier this year, developed a proof-of-concept soft robotic sleeve that supports the function of a failing heart.

However, the researchers noted that one-sided heart conditions were more common among paediatric heart patients. These patients are not experiencing failure of the entire heart rather; congenital conditions had caused the disease in either the hearts right or left ventricle, but not both.

"We set out to develop new technology that would help one diseased ventricle, when the patient is in isolated left or right heart failure, pull blood into the chamber and then effectively pump it into the circulatory system," said Nikolay Vasilyev, a researcher at Boston Childrens, PTI reported.

The soft robotic solution was revealed by researchers, including those from Harvard University in the US.

Although blood could be propelled with other existing mechanical pumps, they are designed so that blood must run through the pump itself, which exposed blood to its unnatural surface.

"Running blood through a pump always requires a patient to be placed - permanently - on anticoagulant medication to prevent blood clotting," said Vasilyev.

The new robot is incorporated into the heart itself, and acts to encourage the organ's normal function. The bit that rests on the heart is a soft robot made of polymers, and as it is soft, it better conforms to the organ and does not irritate the flesh. It is also soft in its operation and instead of using traditional motors that are complicated and bulky, it is pneumatically activated, which makes for a gentler way to manipulate the heart.