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Bionic heart breakthrough

USA – Healthcare providers worldwide are desperately searching for innovations that can combat one of the world’s biggest killers: cardiovascular disease. This is of course, a huge challenge, as the process of designing and testing these devices is so complex. But a breakthrough spearheaded by MIT researchers could soon transform what is possible. Using robotics and heart tissue they have pioneered a bionic heart that offers a realistic model for testing prosthetic valves and other cardiac devices.

“Regulatory testing of cardiac devices requires many fatigue tests and animal tests,” explains Ellen Roche, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “[The new device] could realistically represent what happens in a real heart, to reduce the amount of animal testing or iterate the design more quickly.”

It also means the engineers and designers of these devices being able to test and develop their ideas minus the restrictive cost implications; on a game changing bionic heart that incorporates a ‘soft robotic matrix of artificial muscles’ in a system that pumps ‘like the real thing’.

The researchers believe the bionic heart will help designers more effectively test cardiac devices like prosthetic heart valves, and ultimately revolutionise solutions in the field.

“Imagine that a patient before cardiac device implantation could have their heart scanned, and then clinicians could tune the device to perform optimally in the patient well before the surgery,” added Chris Nguyen, co-lead author at MGH and the Martinos Center. “Also, with further tissue engineering, we could potentially see the biorobotic hybrid heart be used as an artificial heart — a very needed potential solution given the global heart failure epidemic where millions of people are at the mercy of a competitive heart transplant list.”

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Iain Robertson
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