Biorobotic Heart Imitates the Real Thing and Could Further Research

By   |  January 12, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Jan. 11, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- A biorobotic heart that combines a biological pig heart with a silicone robotic pump is providing researchers with a new tool to understand and potentially treat heart disease.

Scientists built the heart by replacing the heart muscle in the left chamber with a soft silicone robotic pump system powered by air.

When inflated, the pump twists and squeezes the heart like real heart muscle, simulating a natural heartbeat.

Using the bionic organ, researchers tested surgical methods to treat a leaky heart valve, which can trigger heart failure.

“It was really interesting for the surgeons to see every step,” said senior researcher Ellen Roche, a biomedical engineer with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Boston. “When you’re working with patients, you can’t visualize the process because there’s blood in the heart.”

New treatments for heart problems must undergo rigorous testing in heart simulators and animal subjects before they are used in humans, the researchers noted in background notes.

Unfortunately, existing heart simulators have a short shelf life of two to four hours, and they don’t completely capture the complex workings of a heart. At the same time, animal studies are pricey and don’t always translate to humans.

The biorobotic heart is meant to bridge these gaps by providing a less expensive method with a shelf life of months instead of hours, researchers said.

“The simulator has a huge benefit as a research tool for those who study different heart valve conditions and interventions,” Roche noted.

“It can serve as a surgical training platform for clinicians, medical students, and trainees, allow device engineers to study their new designs, and even help patients better understand their own disease and potential treatments,” she added.

For this study, researchers focused on a disorder called mitral valve regurgitation, in which the valve between the two left heart chambers doesn’t close properly.

This causes a leaky heart valve through which blood can flow backward, leading to shortness of breath, swelling of the limbs and potentially heart failure. The condition affects more than 24 million people around the world, the researchers said.

Surgeries to fix this problem are highly complex, requiring precise techniques. So researchers used the biorobotic heart -- fitted with a damaged mitral valve -- to test three different approaches.

Heart surgeons corrected the damaged valve by anchoring the valve with artificial chords, replacing the valve with a prosthetic and implanting a device to help the valve close.

All three procedures were successful, restoring blood pressure, blood flow and heart function, researchers report.

The report was published Jan. 10 in the journal Cell Press.

The biorobotic heart also allowed the team to collect real-time data during surgery. Because the artificial blood is clear, surgeons can directly see what is happening while they work.

Given this success, Roche’s team aims to improve the biorobotic heart by making it quicker to build one and designing versions with an even longer shelf life.

They’re also exploring 3D printing technology that might allow them to recreate a synthetic human heart.

“Our biorobotic heart may help improve the device design cycle, allow rapid iterations, get things approved by regulatory bodies and launch them into the market quickly,” Roche said ina journal news release. “Expediting and improving these processes will ultimately benefit patients.”

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more on mitral valve regurgitation.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Jan. 10, 2024