To Mend a Broken Heart


Can you imagine a robot within you? Not one the controls your mind, as depicted in a sci-fi movie, but one that surrounds the center of all blood flow, the heart?  

Coronary Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is also a leading cause of heart failure. Approximately 4,000 people are in need of heart transplants in the U.S. and only about half those will be lucky enough to get a transplant. According to the SynCardia Cooperation, 46% of those needing a heart transplant have to wait two years or more to get one.

Luckily a newly created device called a robotic sleeve could help thousands of patients awaiting a heart transplant. Researchers reported this January in Science Translational Medicine of a newly created soft silicon sleeve that fits around the outer layer of the heart. This device expands and compresses to assist each heartbeat and propel blood forward. It is powered by compressed air. Designed by biomedical engineers Ellen Roche at Harvard, the structure consists of two sets of tubes surround the sleeve; one goes around in a circular motion around the heart, while the other runs up and down. By pumping air through the tubes, the sleeve can compress and expand and help improve the efficiency of each heart beat.

Researchers at Harvard tested the device by inducing cardiac arrest (stopping the heart) in six pigs and measured the amount of blood the heart pumped during cardiac arrest after the sleeve assisted pumping the heart. The results were astonishing. The robotic sleeve assisted the heart in increasing blood pumped by over 100%. Other benefits of the device include reduced complications such as serious blood clots, infection, and internal bleeding versus older mechanical assist devices. The sleeves are also more customizable and better fit to different sized patient’s hearts. Many more test must be run on animals to improve and modify the device to perfection before any human trials start.

With the speed at which technology moves today, perhaps a fully functioning robotic heart can be made in short order and many more patients can be saved. Is the road to immorality near?