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MIT’s Breakthrough with Robotic Heart Ventricle

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MIT engineers have developed a robotic replica of the heart’s right ventricle, capable of mimicking live hearts’ beating and blood-pumping action. This innovative robot ventricle combines real heart tissue with synthetic, balloon-like artificial muscles, providing scientists with unprecedented control over the ventricle’s contractions while enabling observation of its natural valves and intricate structures.

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The artificial ventricle, aptly named the Robotic Right Ventricle (RRV), is a dynamic platform for studying various heart conditions. Researchers can tune the model to simulate both healthy and diseased states, offering insights into diseases such as right ventricular dysfunction, pulmonary hypertension, and myocardial infarction. Furthermore, the RRV becomes a valuable tool for testing and refining cardiac devices, such as mechanical valves, to address malfunctions in natural valves.

According to Manisha Singh, a postdoc at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), the RRV’s potential extends to intensive care settings, especially for patients on mechanical ventilation. The simulator could help study the effects of mechanical ventilation on the right ventricle, paving the way for strategies to prevent right heart failure in vulnerable patients.

The right ventricle, one of the heart’s four chambers, has anatomical complexity, making it challenging for clinicians to accurately observe and assess its function in patients with heart disease. Traditional diagnostic tools often need to catch and rupture the right ventricle’s intricate mechanics and dynamics, leading to potential misdiagnoses and inadequate treatment strategies.

In light of this, the MIT engineering team designed a realistic model of the right ventricle, incorporating both real heart tissue and synthetic components. The use of real heart tissue was crucial in replicating the intricate structures of the right ventricle, such as thin, tiny chordae and valve leaflets, which are challenging to reproduce synthetically.

To create the RRV, the team explanted a pig’s right ventricle, preserving its internal structures. A silicone wrapping was fitted around it, acting as a synthetic myocardium or muscular lining. B balloon-like tubes were embedded within this lining, encircling the real heart tissue and mimicking the ventricle’s contractions. The tubes were connected to a control system, allowing researchers to inflate and deflate them at rates resembling the heart’s rhythm and motion.

The artificial ventricle’s pumping ability was tested by infusing it with a liquid similar in viscosity to blood. The transparent nature of the liquid allowed engineers to observe internal valves and structures as the ventricle pumped. The results demonstrated that the RRV realistically simulated the right ventricle’s action and anatomy, providing a valuable tool for studying heart conditions.

Moreover, the researchers could tune the frequency and power of the pumping tubes to replicate various cardiac conditions, such as irregular heartbeats, muscle weakening, and hypertension. This flexibility enables a deeper understanding of the right ventricle’s behaviour under different scenarios.

The RRV’s utility extends beyond simulation; it is an effective platform for cardiac device testing. The team implanted ring-like medical devices of various sizes to repair the tricuspid valve, a one-way valve that allows blood into the right ventricle. By simulating conditions of tricuspid valve dysfunction and testing different devices, the researchers gained valuable insights into improving fluid flow and addressing potential heart failure issues.

Singh highlighted the RRV’s role as an ideal training ground for surgeons and interventional cardiologists. They can practice new surgical techniques for repairing or replacing the tricuspid valve on the model before applying them to actual patients.

While the RRV simulates realistic functions over a few months, the research team is working to extend its performance duration, allowing for continuous operation over prolonged periods. Additionally, collaboration with designers of implantable devices aims to test prototypes on the artificial ventricle, potentially expediting their path to patients.

From a visionary perspective, the team envisions pairing the RRV with a similar artificial, functional left ventricle model, creating a fully tunable, artificial heart. Although this goal is still in the distant future, it represents an overarching vision that could revolutionise cardiac care and treatment.

MIT’s development of the Robotic Right Ventricle represents a significant leap forward in cardiac research and medical simulation. This technology enhances understanding of heart conditions and opens avenues for innovative treatments and personalised approaches to cardiac care. As technology continues to intersect with healthcare, the potential for such advancements to transform patient outcomes becomes increasingly promising.


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