A team of researchers has developed a soft robot that could help medical implants such as pacemakers, breast implants, neural probes and drug delivery devices adapt to the body.

The team involved the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and AMBER at the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research.

Usually, the body delivers protection responses towards implanted devices. These body responses affect the function, performance and therapeutic efficacy of the implants.

One of the body responses is fibrosis, which involves the formation of a dense fibrous capsule around the implanted device. The fibrous capsule can hinder the device’s function or lead to its failure.

Failure rates due to fibrosis can range from 30% to 50% in case of implantable pacemakers, and 30% for mammoplasty prosthetics.

Named dynamic soft reservoir (DSR), the new soft robotic device is designed to significantly decrease fibrous capsule build-up by modifying the environment at the interface of the implant and the body.

The device leverages mechanical oscillation to manipulate the response of cells around the implant. According to the researchers, the soft robot can change its shape at microscopic scale via an actuating membrane.

NUI Galway anatomy professor Garry Duffy said: “We feel the ideas described in this paper could transform future medical devices and how they interact with the body.

“We are very excited to develop this technology further and to partner with people interested in the potential of soft robotics to better integrate devices for longer use and superior patient outcomes. It’s fantastic to build and continue the collaboration with the Dolan and Roche labs, and to develop a trans-Atlantic network of soft roboticists.”

The research has been published in the Science Robotics journal.