The Complexities of Creating Robot Hearts for People with Heart Defects or Heart Failure

Kaylee Everhart

Updated Thursday, October 5, 2023 at 3:17 AM CDT

The Complexities of Creating Robot Hearts for People with Heart Defects or Heart Failure

The idea of creating robot hearts for individuals with heart defects or heart failure seems like a logical solution. After all, we have machines that can pump blood, so why not build hearts specifically designed for them? However, the reality is much more complex than it seems. In this article, we will explore the challenges and limitations of creating robot hearts and why alternative solutions may be more viable.

The Limitations of Mechanical Pumps:

One of the main challenges in creating robot hearts is the complexity of replicating the functions of a biological heart. Mechanical pumps that simulate the pulse of the heart are bulky, prone to wear and tear, and far from being a reality at this point. The intricate processes that biology can achieve are difficult to replicate in mechanical form. While it is technically possible to create robot hearts, the size and functionality required to fit into a human chest pose significant obstacles.

The Importance of Pulsing:

Another factor to consider is the pulsing nature of the human heart. The heart pumps in pulses because that is how biologics work, making it challenging to achieve a continuous flow of fluid. However, recent research suggests that a continuous flow of fluid may be a viable alternative. In a study conducted by NPR, two Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) units were used to replace both sides of the heart. Surprisingly, this approach proved successful, indicating that the heart itself is the only organ that requires a pulse. This discovery opens up new possibilities for alternative solutions to heart defects or heart failure.

The Challenges of Mechanical Devices:

While mechanical devices may seem like a potential solution, they come with their own set of challenges. Firstly, mechanical devices can damage the blood, particularly red blood cells, which can lead to problems with oxygen transportation. Additionally, these devices can damage platelets responsible for clotting, increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and other complications. Furthermore, foreign materials placed inside the body often trigger an immune response, leading to potential infections. Powering mechanical devices also poses a challenge, as they require a reliable energy source. Recharging or replacing batteries can be problematic, and external power sources increase the risk of infection. Overall, the limitations and risks associated with mechanical devices make them an impractical option for long-term solutions.

The Role of Tissue:

While creating fully robotic hearts may not be feasible, there are alternatives that utilize organic material. Surgeons have successfully implanted mechanical heart valves and ventricular assist devices to maintain blood circulation. However, these solutions require patients to take blood thinners for the rest of their lives to prevent clotting. The body naturally prefers organic material when it comes to surfaces in contact with blood, making tissue-based solutions a more favorable option.

While the idea of creating robot hearts for individuals with heart defects or heart failure may seem like a straightforward solution, the reality is far more complex. Mechanical pumps are bulky, prone to wear, and struggle to replicate the intricate functions of a biological heart. Additionally, they pose risks such as damaging blood cells, triggering immune responses, and requiring reliable power sources. Alternative solutions, such as tissue-based implants, offer more promising long-term options. As technology continues to advance, it is crucial to consider the limitations and challenges associated with creating robot hearts and explore alternative approaches to improve the quality of life for those with heart conditions.

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