The Reporter
Issue no 485 | 28 October 2002
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Wrap-around blanket helps keep the beat
 

Researchers at Leeds are developing an ultrasonic blanket, to wrap around weak or damaged hearts and help them carry on beating.

The device uses tiny ultrasonic motors linked to an ECG to squeeze the heart in time to its natural beat, slowing down during sleep, and working harder during exercise. The motors are similar to those used on the autofocus of certain cameras, but, unlike electric motors, they can be scaled down to a very small size, with no problems of excessive heat.

The researchers hope to join many of these motors together in one ‘blanket’, and it could prove a lifeline to people who’ve suffered a stroke, or whose hearts are weakened by heart disease, still working, but not pumping as they should.

“The blanket would wrap around the heart, just touching the tissue but, unlike other devices which help the heart to pump, not in direct contact with the blood,” said lead researcher Dr Peter Walker (below). “Pacemakers electrically stimulate the heart to beat, but our device would work mechanically, allowing the heart muscle time to rest and even, in some cases, repair itself.”

Peter Walker

The researchers have built their first motor, and are now designing a much smaller version. They will be testing the motors’ speed and force, to ensure the movement is as close as possible to the muscles of the heart. The work is funded by the Leeds-based charity, the National Heart Research Fund.

Wrap-around research – Peter Walker and the test rig to simulate the interaction between the heart and heart blanket

 
 


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