How Robotic Sleeves Can Restore Heart Function After Cardiac Arrest

How Robotic Sleeves Can Restore Heart Function After Cardiac Arrest

By Vidhya Sivakumaran

According to the American Heart Association, heart failure currently affects close to 6 million people in the US alone, costing the nation an approximately 31 billion dollars each year. Now, patients all over the world who suffer from heart failure and are waiting for a heart transplant can now breathe a sigh of relief. In a recently published study, scientists announced the development of a robotic sleeve made from soft, biomimetic materials that could possibly restore the heart’s ability to pump blood in patients with decreased heart function.  This new device could save thousands, if not millions, of lives in the future.

What Is the Robotic Sleeve Aka “Hug Machine”?

This robotic sleeve, made of soft silicone that mimics the tissue of the heart muscle, hugs the outside of the heart. It stiffens and relaxes when inflated with pressurized air, imitating the action of the heart. This new innovative piece of technology may be the promising strategy that can change how we treat heart failure.

Current devices, better known as ventricular assist devices or VADs, are the main tools used to help extend life. But these devices also have many disadvantages and while the only option, they aren’t the best option. Why? VADs, which are implanted into the heart, are in constant contact with blood, thereby increasing the risk of infection, clotting, and stroke. The increased likelihood of these events also means patients may require the long-term use of blood thinners.

According to a  Harvard study, a prototype of this machine was successfully tested in pigs expressing heart failure. The device at hand is designed to help the failing heart pump blood by giving the muscle a gentle squeeze or better yet, a hug, mimicking the effects of the cardiac muscle.

The primary investigators of this study say the soft sleeve was inspired by the actions of the real heart muscle. The study, which fixed sleeves around the hearts of six pigs, was able to synchronize with the shape and movements of each heart. The robotic sleeve helped boost the volume of blood being pumped around the body; and when the heart stopped beating, the sleeves helped restore the flow of blood.

So, How Do These Sleeves Work?

These mechanical sleeves, stiffen and relax when inflated with pressured air. BUT, they are not implanted into the heart. This apparatus is different than a VAD, in this sense, because, instead of being in contact with the surrounding blood and tissue, it hugs the outside of the heart reducing the risk of stroke and coagulation.

While this new device is definitely an exciting innovation, the research is still in the early stages and longer term studies and clinical trials need to be carried before these devices can be used in patients with heart failure. It will be interesting to see how this research translates to humans.

Image courtesy of

Never miss an insight

Get insights delivered right to your inbox

More of Our Insights & Work

Never miss an insight

Get insights delivered right to your inbox

You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter.

Too many subscribe attempts for this email address.