ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research


2021/07/01 | Research | Biomechanics

Artificial muscle implanted to assist cardiac function

In collaboration with the École Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the ARTORG Cardiovascular Engineering group has developed a dielectric‐elastomer actuator (DEA) for the aorta to assist patients with heart failure. A first prototype has now been implanted in vivo. Bern contributed to the success of the project by providing the experimental setup, physiological understanding, and surgical expertise.

Experimental setup for in-vitro testing of the DEA, developed by the ARTORG Center Cardiovascular Engineering group (Photo: Felix Wey, Werner Siemens Stiftung)

Scientists from EPFL and University of Bern have successfully implanted – in vivo – their first artificial tubular muscle that augments the aorta and assists cardiac function in pumping blood. Based on these results, the Werner Siemens Foundation, which had already supported the project initially, has provided the green-light for granting an extra 8 million CHF over 8 years to develop artificial muscles for human disorders.

The dielectric‐elastomer‐augmented aorta (DEAA) consists of a tubular DEA with an electrically driven compliance. It is designed to assist the pulsatile nature of the heart by means of an innovative aortic counter‐pulsation approach. Possible advantages are minimized risks to damage red blood cells, not tempering with the heart directly but with the aorta, and the possibility to serve as an alternative to heart transplantation in patients with heart failure.

Based on the initial idea of the EPFL Laboratory of Integrated Actuators, the experimental setup to study the biomechanical interaction between the beating heart and the modified aortic compliance has been developed at the ARTORG Cardiovascular Engineering lab. The first successful implantation is now an important milestone on the way to developing the DEA into an implant that seamlessly adapts to the vascular anatomy and can support cardiac function in the long term.

The supplementary funds allocated will be used for the next phases of the project, which include development of artificial muscles to address urinary incontinence via artificial sphincters in collaboration with University of Bern (or to restore control of facial expression  with the University of Zurich.