Scientists Are Working on a Robotic Sleeve That Could Help Your Heart Beat

The sleeve, developed by Harvard and Boston Children's Hospital, squeezes the heart to keep it pumping.

Researchers from Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital want you to wear your sleeve on your heart.

A team of scientists is at work on a soft robotic sleeve that could encase a faltering heart and help restore its function. So far, the concept has been successfully tested in six pigs, and humans could be next.

“The soft robotic sleeve can be customized to patient-specific needs and may have the potential to act as a bridge to transplant for patients with heart failure,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in Science Translational Medicine Wednesday.

The sleeve, which is outfitted with artificial muscles powered by compressed air, works by squeezing, twisting, and relaxing with the heart, imitating its natural movements and helping it function properly. Since the robot sits outside the heart, blood would not run through the device—as it does with conventional heart pumps—which could cut down on required medication and possible complications. As the researchers note in the paper, the sleeve could also be customized based on a patient’s specific disease, heart condition, and heartbeat.

While the new study shows proof of concept, the researchers stress that more animal testing, and more long-term testing, is necessary before a sleeve finds its way to a human heart. If the team finds success, however, it could mean big things for the medical community. With only about 2,000 donor hearts transplanted each year, new innovations stand to save hundreds and thousands of lives.