Could the soft robot be the key to sustaining life while patients await heart transplants? That is the question doctors and researchers are answering with the introduction of the soft robot. The soft robot is designed to provide the much-needed assistance the heart needs to keep beating until the transplant can take place.
If it is determined the patient is eligible for a transplant, they are placed on a waiting list maintained by the United Network of Organ Sharing. Patients whose doctors have declared they are in need of heart transplant surgery are usually in the final stages of heart disease. Unfortunately, many people die while waiting, as it takes six months or longer to finally be next in line.
Doctors determine the patient’s need for heart transplants by placing them in one of four categories. Those who are in urgent need and require immediate hospitalization; those dependent on IV medications or a mechanical-assisted device; those who are stable and on medication, and those who have experienced a positive change in their condition.
The soft robot is a ventricular assist device (VAD) that works by pumping the blood from the heart and pushing it around in the body. Doctors advise it can work in helping to sustain the life of the patient, but it is not ideal due to its side effects. This is because the blood, with the use of this device, has to travel through tubes made of foreign material.
In order for the body to not reject and react to the material, the patient has to take anticoagulants. This is a medicine that helps reduce blood clotting in the arteries, veins, and heart. While the medicine may help the body sustain the transplant, with it comes a 20 percent higher risk of stroke.
These limitations is what temporarily discouraged doctors from recommending VADs for heart patients. Now with the advent of soft robotics, they are taking another look at the great possibilities. A team of biochemical engineers from Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital have introduced the robotic sleeve.
This revolutionary device is designed to twist and compress the heart in the same way the heart ventricles are designed to do. Only when the heart is diseased, the ventricles are not as effective in doing this. The sleeve is made of soft fibers and filler materials that are more compatible with the human body than the first models of the soft robots tested.
As testing and inventing of soft robotics continue, doctors are hopeful this method could help save many lives as patients wait for a heart donor.
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