Human anatomy is very well documented. Our internal features and structures, such as the chambers of the heart, are well understood by clinicians. So, when it comes to treating a range of conditions, we should have a very good sense of how people might be responding to treatment, right?
Well, maybe. Despite a thorough understanding of human anatomy, clinicians can’t account for every unique variation in structure that each patient may present with, making it hard to ascertain what treatments will work and how they will work.
A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have recently designed new soft-material robotic hearts designed as exact replicas of the human heart. These new structures could allow them to studied how the heart might respond to treatment outside the body to help predict or recommend an optimal treatment for a real patient. The new robotic hearts are described in a recent article published in Science Robotics.
To create the hearts, researchers used imaging scans of real human hearts to construct, which is then used to create computer models that can generate a 3D heart structure. This structure can then be printed with a flexible polymer ink that allows the printed structure to match the anatomy and features of an individual patient’s heart.
Then, researchers can add “sleeves” to the robotic heart, which allows them to stimulate heart activity and different kinds of heart conditions. For example, the model allows researchers to see the heart of someone with aortic stenosis outside the body. They can even replicate the exact features of a person’s heart, down to the exact blood pressure.
With the ability to basically see a patient’s heart outside the body, researchers can test different interventions to see which may be the most successful. This can be especially helpful to test different valve replacements, for example, to find the optimal one before putting a patient through surgery.
Sources: Medgadget; Science Robotics