A Revolutionary New Machine Can Keep a Heart Beating Forever


If you were laughing at Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil's attempts to reach immortality, you might want to bite your tongue: the future is closer than you might think, thanks to a revolutionary new technique to keep a heart beating forever.

Scientists at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis have created a thin, electronic membrane than can keep the heart beating inside at a perfect rate. This "spider-web-like network of sensors and electrodes" is stretchable and lined with circuits to sense and interact with the heart, unlike the pacemakers and implantable defibrillators currently available.

The research group has already experimented successfully with a rabbit heart by scanning it while it was alive, printing a precise 3D model and creating the membrane to fit it.

Image Credit: Gizmodo

Once the heart was removed from the rabbit, it was placed inside the membrane in a "nutrient and oxygen-rich solution," and has been beating since then:

Image Credit: Gizmodo

Though "cardiac socks" already exist, they cannot fit as snugly as a customized membrane and cannot communicate information to external sources. Not only would this new technology keep hearts beating, but it would also serve as emergency medical devices in the case of cardiac events.

"Because this is implantable, it will allow physicians to monitor vital functions in different organs and intervene when necessary to provide therapy," said biomedical engineer Igor Efimov. "In the case of heart rhythm disorders, it could be used to stimulate cardiac muscle or the brain, or in renal disorders, it would monitor ionic concentrations of calcium, potassium and sodium."

The researchers hope to build functional human models in 10 to 15 years.