The world’s first soft robotic heart is in development which could clear NHS transplant waiting lists.
The “hybrid heart” will be the first ever made of soft artificial muscles and sensors and then coated in human tissue grown in a lab.
A pioneering Dutch surgeon is working in partnership with the British Heart Foundation to transplant it in to the first person in 2028.
The team behind it claim it could end the need for transplants from dead humans and save thousands who die while on organ donor waiting lists globally.
Prof Jolanda Kluin, of the University of Amsterdam, said: “The only treatment for end stage heart failure is replacement.
“There is a huge shortage in donor organs and in a way that’s good. Every donor organ means that somewhere else, someone young has died.
“A hybrid heart could create the first ever solution for end stage heart failure.”
The heart will be driven by fluid or air, and powered by electricity. Electricity will be transferred wirelessly from a close power source worn in the patient’s clothing.
A smaller battery will also be implanted inside the patient which will power the heart “for an hour or so if they have a shower or go for a swim”.
EU-funded research has already demonstrated the technology is possible.
Without being wrapped in cells from the patient’s own body the hybrid heart would become infected so that the body effectively rejects it.
The device, currently being patented, will first be tested in an animal in five years.
Previous attempts have been made to develop a robotic heart in France where a 76-year-old man died in 2014 two-and-a-half months after his operation.
It was made from a sponge-like material called polyurethane and cells from a cow’s heart.
The new project is considered a major advance on previous attempts as it will use material with the stiffness of muscle tissue and will move and pump like a real human heart.
There were 155 Brits who died while waiting for a lifesaving heart transplant in the last five years and worldwide many thousands perished.
One of the lucky ones to get a lifesaving human donation was Mirror campaigner 11-year-old Max Johnson who needed a heart transplant after developing cardiomyopathy.
He became the face of our three-year campaign for the historic law change on organ donation in England to presumed consent.
Prof Kluin started looking in to a solution alongside mechanical engineers at Eindhoven University of Technology after she watched her father-in-law die of heart failure
“He had spent a life working hard and was full of plans for his retirement,” she explained.
(Image: Philip Coburn/Daily Mirror)
“It hurt to see him knowing there was nothing the doctors could offer. Besides being a cardiopathic surgeon, I’m a wife, a mother-of-four and a daughter.
“It also hurts so badly standing next to the bed of a young patient, a baby with heart failure, knowing that there won’t be a donor heart in time.
“Knowing that within the next couple of days you will have to discuss with the parents stopping their treatment and the baby will die.
“You see the hope in the eyes of the parents and their trust and faith in the doctors that they could save their baby.”
Prof Kluin is an expert in human cell engineering and the development and repair of heart valves.
Her team are patenting three soft heart prototypes before settling on which to move forward with. One would be made from silicone and the other two from other soft, non-stretchable materials.
Currently machines outside the body can keep the heart pumping but it is not a long term solution and risks bleeding, infections and stroke. Heart failure patients on such machines cannot bath or shower.
She said: “In the hybrid heart the beating power comes from soft robots. 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.
“While radical, our ambition is not science fiction. What people with heart failure can dream, hybrid hearts can achieve.”
Prof Kluin is now applying to the British Heart Foundation for £30 million in funding as part of its Big Beat Challenge to help make a hybrid heart a reality.
Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, BHF medical director, said: “We wholeheartedly believe in the transformational potential of the Big Beat Challenge to save and improve lives, both here in the UK and around the world.
“It represents the single biggest investment in pioneering science in the BHF’s 60-year history.”
The law around organ donation will be changing in both England and Scotland in 2020.
From Spring 2020 in England and Autumn 2020 in Scotland, everyone will be considered as having agreed to donate their own organs when they die unless they record a decision not to donate.
John Forsythe, medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “This is interesting research but to save more lives right now, we need more families to support organ donation.”