MIT Engineers Craft a Robotic Mirror of the Right VentricleMIT Engineers Craft a Robotic Mirror of the Right Ventricle

MIT engineers

have unveiled a groundbreaking development in cardiac science by introducing a robotic replica of the heart’s right ventricle. This sophisticated creation successfully emulates the beating and blood-pumping action of live hearts, offering a realistic platform for studying heart disorders and testing innovative cardiac devices and therapies.

The robotic right ventricle, or RRV, is a fusion of real heart tissue and synthetic, balloon-like artificial muscles. These artificial muscles enable scientists to control the ventricle’s contractions, providing valuable insights into the functioning of its natural valves and intricate structures. The RRV can be finely tuned to replicate both healthy and diseased states, making it an invaluable tool for simulating conditions like right ventricular dysfunction, pulmonary hypertension, and myocardial infarction.

In a ballet of beats

MIT researchers have demonstrated the RRV’s capability to mimic the pumping of deoxygenated blood to the lungs. Unlike its counterpart, the left ventricle, which is a heavy lifter, the right ventricle is compared to a “ballerina” due to its lighter yet equally crucial load. This anatomical complexity has posed challenges for clinicians in accurately observing and assessing right ventricle function in patients with heart disease.

To address this challenge, the MIT team designed a realistic model that incorporates real heart tissue to capture the intricate mechanics and dynamics of the right ventricle. The model’s use of actual heart tissue is crucial, as it retains natural structures too complex to reproduce synthetically.

A Heart’s Shelf-Life

In this new study, the researchers describe a process where they removed the right ventricle from a pig’s heart. They took special care to preserve the internal structures of the ventricle. Next, they wrapped the ventricle with a silicone covering, essentially creating a soft, synthetic layer that mimics the heart’s muscular lining. Inside this covering, they placed several long, balloon-like tubes strategically, based on computational modeling, to replicate the natural contractions of the ventricle. These tubes were connected to a control system, which the researchers programmed to inflate and deflate each tube in a way that imitated the real rhythm and motion of the heart.

This artificial ventricle, infused with a blood-like liquid for testing, demonstrated pumping power and internal structure function similar to live, healthy animals. The researchers could also simulate various cardiac conditions, such as irregular heartbeats and hypertension, by adjusting the frequency and power of the pumping tubes.

The RRV’s practical applications extend to testing cardiac devices. The team implanted ring-like medical devices to repair the tricuspid valve, observing how different devices improved fluid flow as the ventricle continued to pump. This innovation provides a valuable training ground for surgeons and interventional cardiologists to practice new surgical techniques before performing them on actual patients.

While the RRV currently simulates realistic function over a few months, MIT engineers are actively working to extend its performance duration. The goal is to create a fully tunable, artificial heart by pairing the RRV with a similar artificial, functional model of the left ventricle. This ambitious vision holds the potential to revolutionize cardiac science and enhance treatment strategies for heart disorders.

The research, detailed in an open-access paper in Nature Cardiovascular Research, was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

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