February 22, 2024

Innovative Biorobotic Heart Developed to Simulate Heart Valves

Researchers have successfully created a biorobotic heart that replicates the motion and function of a real heart, with a particular focus on simulating a valve on the left side of the heart. The heart valve simulator, as detailed in a recent publication in the journal Device, imitates the structure, motion, and function of a healthy or diseased heart valve, providing surgeons and researchers with a platform to demonstrate various interventions while collecting real-time data.

The development of this simulator holds significant potential as a research tool for studying different heart valve conditions and interventions, according to senior author and biomedical engineer, Ellen Roche, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It can be used as a surgical training platform for clinicians, medical students, and trainees, offer device engineers the opportunity to study their new designs, and help patients gain a better understanding of their own diseases and potential treatment options.

Before new interventions can be administered to humans, they must undergo rigorous testing in heart simulators and animal subjects. However, existing heart simulators do not fully capture the complexity of a real heart and have a limited shelf life of only two to four hours. Additionally, animal studies are costly and time-consuming, and the findings may not always be directly applicable to humans. The introduction of the biorobotic heart aims to bridge these gaps by providing a less expensive alternative with a shelf life of several months.

The researchers specifically focused on mitral regurgitation, a disorder characterized by the improper closing of the valve between the left heart chambers, resulting in a leaky heart valve that allows blood to flow backward. This condition affects approximately 24.2 million people worldwide and can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, limb swelling, and heart failure.

Given the intricate structure of the mitral valve, surgical procedures to correct the disorder are highly complex, emphasizing the need for advanced technology and precise surgical techniques.

To gain a better understanding of the mitral valve in both healthy and diseased states, the research team developed a biorobotic heart based on a pig heart. The heart muscle in the left chamber was replaced with a soft robotic pump system made of silicone that is activated by air. When inflated, the system replicates the twisting and squeezing motions of real heart muscle, pumping artificial blood through a mock circulation system and simulating the beating of a biological heart.

When the mitral valve in the biorobotic heart was intentionally damaged, it exhibited characteristics of a leaky heart valve. The researchers then had cardiac surgeons employ three different techniques to correct the damage: anchoring the flailing valve leaflet tissue with artificial chords, replacing the valve with a prosthetic valve, and implanting a device to aid the successful closure of the valve leaflet.

All three procedures were successful, restoring the pressure, flow, and function of the heart to normal levels. The system also facilitated the collection of real-time data during the surgeries and is compatible with current imaging technologies used in clinical settings. Furthermore, the artificial blood used in the system is transparent, enabling direct visualization of the procedure. These findings validate the device as a novel heart model.

Notably, the surgeons found it particularly beneficial to witness every step of the procedure, as traditional surgeries involve blood in the heart, obstructing visualization. Roche foresees their heart model serving as a realistic environment for cardiac surgery training and practice.

Moving forward, the research team aims to optimize the current biorobotic heart system by reducing production time and increasing its shelf life. They are also exploring the possibilities of 3D printing technology to create a synthetic human heart for the system, instead of relying on pig hearts.

According to Roche, “Our biorobotic heart may help improve the device design cycle, allow rapid iterations, gain approval from regulatory bodies, and bring them to the market quickly.” The acceleration and enhancement of these processes will ultimately benefit patients.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it