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Electronic smart pump to revolutionise heart disease treatment

02 November 2013

A world first electronic smart pump, which aims to increase the survival chances of victims of chronic heart failure, is being developed by researchers at Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Dr Philip Breedon (background) with one of his co-researchers, PhD student Fergal Coulter
Dr Philip Breedon (background) with one of his co-researchers, PhD student Fergal Coulter

The smart aortic graft is at an early development stage, but the researchers believe it could be implanted into a removed section of the ascending aorta to improve the heart’s efficiency. A smart material, which expands when a voltage is applied to it, surrounds an inner woven tube to act as a pump. The tube would be made using origami-type auxetic techniques which allow it to collapse and expand.

The device - for which a patent has been filed - is designed to create a counter blood-flow by ‘beating’ out of phase with the diseased heart. When the heart fills with blood, the woven tube contracts to increase pressure in the heart. When the heart then pumps oxygenated blood around the body, the tube expands to release the pressure and increase the blood flow.

Using 3D printing techniques, the research team aims for the smart pump to be tailor-made to each patient by using MRI scan data.

The smart pump would be powered by a battery implanted in the patient’s body and would be entirely self-contained, without the need for the patient to be hospital bedbound and connected to large machinery via catheters and transdermal lines.

Research team leader, Dr Philip Breedon, a reader in smart technologies at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, says it is a groundbreaking device and believes it has the potential to be more effective than any other therapy currently in use. 

“Chronic heart failure is a major health challenge and up to 40 percent of sufferers die within the first year," he says. "The best form of treatment is a heart transplant, but the demand by far outweighs the supply, as around 160,000 people require one in Europe each year, but only 600 donor hearts are available.

“The technology currently used to help people with acute heart failure can only be used for a few days and involves the patient being attached to large external machines which need to be plugged into the mains power supply.

“The smart aortic graft has the potential to not only extend a patient’s life, but also to provide them with mobility, comfort and a reduced need for carers.”

The project is supported by the Nottingham University Hospitals Innovation seed fund managed by the department of Research and Innovation. The University of Nottingham is also collaborating on the project.

Associate Professor David Richens, a consultant cardiac surgeon at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, describes the smart aortic graft as a “unique, cutting edge solution to a global health problem,” which promises to be cheaper and better than current devices.

“The cost of heart failure in the UK alone is £625 million a year and, according to the World Heart Failure Society, incidences of heart failure are steadily rising around the globe,” he says. “The smart aortic graft would revolutionise the way people are treated and the technologies which underpin the design have the potential to transform the treatment of other diseases, such as Esophageal Achalasia.

“Designs such as this are revealing the true potential of smart materials in medical product design. This technology really could be the start of a new beginning in the way we use equipment to help save people’s lives.”

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