Posted on Jan 27, 2020, 8 p.m.
The world’s first completely robotic heart may end the need for transplants from dead humans in as few as 10 years, the hybrid heart made of soft artificial muscles and sensors is hoped to eventually end the need for human transplants.
The hybrid robotic heart is under development and could clear NHS heart transplant waiting lists and save many lives. It is the first hybrid heart made from soft artificial muscles and sensors which are coated in human tissues that are grown in a laboratory.
There are plans partnered with the British Heart Foundation to transplant it into the first person in 2028; the hope is that this hybrid robotic heart will save thousands of lives who would normally have died while waiting for a human organ donor on global waiting lists.
“The only treatment for end-stage heart failure is replacement,” says Professor Jolanda Kluin, of the University of Amsterdam. “There is a huge shortage in donor organs and in a way that’s good. Every donor organ means that somewhere else, someone young has died. A hybrid heart could create the first ever solution for end stage heart failure.”
The hybrid robotic heart will be driven by fluid or air and will be powered by electricity that will be transferred wirelessly from a close power source that will be worn by the patient, and a smaller battery will also be implanted into the patient that can power the heart for a short period of time: “for an hour or so if they have a shower or go for a swim”.
This technology has already been shown to be possible in previous EU funded research. Without being wrapped in cells from the patient’s own body the hybrid robotic heart would become infected and the body will reject it. This project is a significant advancement on previous attempts and it will use materials with the stiffness of muscle tissue and will move/pump like a real human heart.
The hybrid robotic heart is currently being patented, and will first be tested in animals in five years. Previous attempts in France made from a sponge like polyurethane and cells from a cow’s heart in 2014 did not fare well as the man died only 2.5 months after transplant. In Britain 155 people died waiting for a heart transplant in the last five years alone, around the globe many thousands of people have perished waiting.
Professor Kluin is a leading expert in human cell engineering as well as the development and repair of heart valves; along with her team they are assembling three soft heart prototypes before deciding on which one to move forward with, one will be made with silicone, and the other two with soft, non-stretchable materials.
As it stands machines outside the body can keep the heart pumping, but this is not a long term solution and it carries the risk of stroke, infections, and bleeding. Additionally heart failure patients on these machines are not able to take a shower or bath.
According to Kluin “In the hybrid heart the beating power comes from soft robots. Soft robots are fabricated from materials with the stiffness that resembles human tissue. The soft robotics muscles precisely mimic the human heart, so the hybrid heart really beats like a human heart. The hybrid heart is lined by the patient’s own cells preventing clotting, infection and reaction. Energy transfer is wireless so the patient experiences real freedom. While radical, our ambition is not science fiction. What people with heart failure can dream, hybrid hearts can achieve.”
“We wholeheartedly believe in the transformational potential of the Big Beat Challenge to save and improve lives, both here in the UK and around the world. It represents the single biggest investment in pioneering science in the BHF’s 60-year history,” says Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, BHF medical director.
In 2020 the laws around organ donation will be changing in England as well as Scotland; everyone will be considered as having agreed to donate their own organs when they die unless they record a decision not to donate their organs.
“This is interesting research but to save more lives right now, we need more families to support organ donation,” said John Forsythe, medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.