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New artificial heart design sets our pulses racing

12 March 2018

OHSU physicians and researchers are developing what they hope will be the first permanent total artificial heart for a human being.

The heart design is an elegant and simple design. Two ventricles of the human heart are replaced with one titanium tube, that houses a hollow rod that shuttles back in forth. (Credit: OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

The device was originally designed by the now-retired Richard Wampler, M.D., who was inspired to help those experiencing heart disease when he was as a surgical resident at OHSU 

“OHSU was the first to have an artificial heart valve, and now we are aiming to be the first to have a permanent, practical total artificial heart,” said Sanjiv Kaul, M.D., CEO of the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute, which is advancing Wampler’s design. “We want to close that loop.”

OHSU’s total artificial heart is designed to permanently replace a failing heart for most adults and children aged 10 or older. Just one artificial heart is currently approved for human use in the U.S. but its manufacturer describes it as a temporary device. Artificial hearts have mostly been viewed as short-term fixes to help ailing patients while they wait for a human heart transplant.

The OHSU device has the potential to be a permanent replacement because of its simple design. It replaces two ventricles – the human heart’s lower chambers – with one titanium tube that contains a titanium alloy-coated hollow rod that shuttles back and forth. This to-and-fro motion moves blood to the lungs so it can grab oxygen and then sends the resulting oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.

“Considering the human heart beats 14 million times a year, it’s crucial that an artificial heart is durable and robust,” Kaul said. “The simple, efficient design of our total artificial heart makes its potential for failure very low.”

OHSU’s artificial heart will be powered by a combined controller and rechargeable battery pack that users could carry in a pocket, attach to a belt or place in a backpack. With improved battery efficiency and design, the battery could eventually be implanted under the skin and recharged from the outside.

Other artificial heart designs have many complex and moving parts, including two artificial ventricle chambers and various artificial valves. The more parts there are in a machine, the more parts that could break or malfunction, Kaul said. The OHSU device doesn’t have valves and its interior hollow rod is suspended with hydrodynamic bearings, meaning it never touches the tube in which it moves.

OHSU’s artificial heart is also unique because it creates a blood flow that mimics a natural human pulse. Other artificial heart pumps send blood through the body in a continuous flow, without a pulse. Having a pulse-like blood flow minimises blood damage, reduces the risk of blood clotting, and may also reduce some of the complications seen in devices that don’t pulse, such as gastrointestinal bleeding and stroke.

Video courtesy of OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

The original article can be found on the OHSU website


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