Robotic heart? International team develops transplant replacement

The revolutionary device is expected to be tested in humans by 2028.

Virtual image of human heart  (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Virtual image of human heart
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
A Dutch surgeon and the British Heart Foundation are working together to develop the first “hybrid” robotic heart, according to a report in the Daily Mail. 

The heart will be made of soft, artificial muscles and sensors and then coated in human tissue grown in the lab.
Specifically, the article explains, the heart would be driven by fluid or air, and powered by electricity that would be brought from a nearby power source, perhaps worn on the patient’s clothes.
A battery implanted inside the body would even allow the patient to shower or swim for a short while.
The pioneer behind the project is Prof. Jolanda Kluin of the University of Amsterdam. She told the Daily Mail that: “A hybrid heart could create the first-ever solution for end-stage heart failure.”
Some 155 Brits died while waiting for a lifesaving transplant in the last five years, the newspaper reported. According to the American Transplant Foundation, almost 114,000 people are currently on the waiting list in the US for a lifesaving organ transplant. In 2019, 3,551 people had a heart transplant in America, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing – only 3% of those currently waiting.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. In Israel, it is the second largest cause of death after cancer. According to the Health Ministry, heart disease accounted for about a sixth (16%) of the total number of deaths in Israel in 2013.
In April 2019, a team of Israeli researchers “printed” the world’s first 3-D vascularized, engineered heart made using a patient’s own cells and biological material. 
Up until then, scientists had successfully printed only simple tissues, without blood vessels.
The Tel Aviv team said it hopes to teach the 3-D heart to behave like a human heart. Then, they will transplant ones like it into animals and eventually into humans, hopefully within the next 10 years.
The Daily Mail article explained that European Union-funded research has already demonstrated that the technology is possible. The device is currently being patented and will first be tested on animals for five years, before hopefully being transplanted into the first human in 2028.
“In the hybrid heart, the beating power comes from soft robots,” Kluin explained to the paper. “Soft robots are fabricated from materials with the stiffness that resembles human tissue... The soft-robotics muscles precisely mimic the human heart, so the hybrid heart really beats like a human heart. The hybrid heart is lined by the patient’s own cells, preventing clotting, infection and reaction... Energy transfer is wireless so the patient experiences real freedom.”
She told the British paper that what used to seem radical or ambitious is no longer science fiction. “What people with heart failure can dream, hybrid hearts can achieve,” she said.
Kluin is now applying for an additional £30 million in funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) through its Big Beat Challenge to keep the project going.
Noted Prof. Sir Nilesh Samani, BHF medical director, said, “It represents the single biggest investment in pioneering science in the BHF’s 60-year history.”