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MIT engineers design a robotic replica of the heart’s right chamber

The realistic model could aid the development of better heart implants and shed light on understudied heart disorders.

MIT engineers have developed a robotic replica of the heart’s right ventricle, which mimics the beating and blood-pumping action of live hearts.

The robo-ventricle combines real heart tissue with synthetic, balloon-like artificial muscles that enable scientists to control the ventricle’s contractions while observing how its natural valves and other intricate structures function.

The artificial ventricle can be tuned to mimic healthy and diseased states. The team manipulated the model to simulate conditions of right ventricular dysfunction, including pulmonary hypertension and myocardial infarction. They also used the model to test cardiac devices. For instance, the team implanted a mechanical valve to repair a natural malfunctioning valve, then observed how the ventricle’s pumping changed in response.

They say the new robotic right ventricle, or RRV, can be used as a realistic platform to study right ventricle disorders and test devices and therapies aimed at treating those disorders.

“The right ventricle is particularly susceptible to dysfunction in intensive care unit settings, especially in patients on mechanical ventilation,” says Manisha Singh, a postdoc at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES). “The RRV simulator can be used in the future to study the effects of mechanical ventilation on the right ventricle and to develop strategies to prevent right heart failure in these vulnerable patients.”

Singh and her colleagues report details of the new design in an open-access paper appearing today in Nature Cardiovascular Research. Her co-authors include Associate Professor Ellen Roche, who is a core member of IMES and the associate head for research in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT; along with Jean Bonnemain, Caglar Ozturk, Clara Park, Diego Quevedo-Moreno, Meagan Rowlett, and Yiling Fan of MIT; Brian Ayers of Massachusetts General Hospital; Christopher Nguyen of Cleveland Clinic; and Mossab Saeed of Boston Children’s Hospital.

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