A miniature robot created by Carnegie Mellon researchers could one day lessen some of the risk associated with heart surgery. Known as HeartLander, the tiny device can attach to the heart by suction and then crawl like an inchworm across its surface, working under the eye of a surgeon who controls it with a joystick interface.
"Because HeartLander does not require deflation of a lung to get access to the heart, it creates the possibility of using local or regional rather than general anesthesia for a procedure," said Cameron Riviere, head of the project and associate professor of robotics at the university. "This could someday enable outpatient heart surgery."
Patients can also be left breathing naturally rather than having a tube placed down their throat.
Riviere says that the unique feature of HeartLander is that it adheres to the heart and moves with it as it beats freely. This means that the minimally invasive beating-heart procedures are feasible without requiring stabilizers or immobilizers for the heart.
Because of its flexibility and its capability for locomotion, the location of the incision enabling the robot to reach the heart is no longer significant. The device can be inserted anywhere in the vicinity and then can "crawl" to the desired location.
Riviere works with Dr. Marco Zenati at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who was a co-principal investigator on some of the grants that supported development of the system. The project, which has been underway for 4 1/2 years, has been funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Computer Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology (CISST), an NSF Engineering Research Center located at Johns Hopkins University.
HeartLander is being commercialized by Dr. Dwight Meglan, CEO of Enhanced Medical Systems, LLC, in Boston. The technology has been licensed from the university and a company has been formed called HeartLander Surgical.