Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have combined a biological heart with a silicone robot pump to create a biohybrid robotic heart that can beat like a real heart. Published on January 10th in the journal “Devices,” this achievement can simulate the structure, function, and motion of both healthy and diseased hearts. This allows surgeons and researchers to demonstrate various interventions while collecting real-time data.
Current heart simulators cannot fully replicate the complexity of the heart and have a shelf life of only 2-4 hours. Additionally, animal studies are expensive, time-consuming, and results may not be applicable to humans. The biohybrid robotic heart addresses these limitations, offering not only a lower cost but also a shelf life of several months.
In this study, researchers focused on mitral valve regurgitation, a condition where the valve between the left heart chambers fails to close properly, leading to valve leakage and potential blood backflow. This condition affects approximately 24.2 million people worldwide and can result in shortness of breath, limb swelling, and heart failure.
To better understand the mitral valve in both healthy and diseased states, the team constructed a biohybrid robotic heart based on a pig’s heart. They replaced the myocardium in the left ventricle with an air-driven silicone soft robot pump system. When inflated, this system twists and compresses like real myocardium, simulating the circulatory system by pumping artificial blood and mimicking the heartbeat.
When researchers damaged the mitral valve of the biohybrid robotic heart, it exhibited characteristics of valve leakage. Subsequently, heart surgeons used three different techniques to correct the damage: anchoring the swinging valve leaflet tissue with artificial tendinous cords, replacing the damaged valve with an artificial one, and implanting a device to assist in closing the valve leaflets.
All three surgeries were successful, with pressure, flow, and heart function returning to normal. The system also allows real-time data collection during surgery and is compatible with current imaging technologies. Because the artificial blood used in the system is transparent, the entire process can be visualized directly.
The MIT team’s next goal is to optimize the current biohybrid robotic heart system by reducing production time and extending shelf life further. In addition to using pig hearts, they are exploring the reconstruction of a synthetic human heart using 3D printing technology.