A french company is ready to begin testing on a new type of artificial heart which combines mechanical parts with organic ones taken from a cow’s heart.
Currently, there is only one artificial heart, made my Phoenix based SynCardia, which has been approved for use on patients, but that may soon change. A french company, Carmat, is ready to test a complex and high tech new artificial heart in four surgery centers across Europe and the Middle East. The heart, which is being called a “bioprosthetic” device, combines synthetic and biological material as well as sensors and software that can detect a patient’s exertion level and adjust the blood flow accordingly.
Creating a viable replacement for the human heart is a project which started decades ago, but which is extremely challenging. To completely replace the human heart, such a device will have to be able to pump consistently 35 million times per year without fail, and needs to do that while withstanding the harsh conditions inside the human body. In addition, previous attempts have led to medical complications such as blood clots or stroke, causing further setbacks.
Because of the difficulties involved in creating artificial hearts, they’ve usually been seen as a temporary measure to be used until a donor can be found. SynCardia’s heart is the first one to be granted permanent use in those cases where a donor heart can’t be found. The need for a consistently high-performing device however, has driven the industry to improve upon the artificial heart, and Carmat’s design is taking the device in a new direction:
The new design has two chambers, each divided by a membrane that holds hydraulic fluid on one side. That fluid causes the membrane to move, thereby causing a flow of blood from one side of the membrane to the other. The side of the tissue facing the blood is made from a material which surrounds cows’ hearts in order to make the device more compatible with the blood flowing through it. “The idea was to develop an artificial heart in which the moving parts that are in contact with blood are made of tissue that is [suited suited] for the biological environment,” says Piet Jansen, chief medical officer of Carmat. Potentially, the design would make patients less reliant on anti-coagulation medicine. The device also uses valves from cow’s hearts.
“It’s a brilliant device; I just worry about the size and mechanical durability,” says William Cohn, heart surgeon at the Texas Heart Institute. Considering that installing an artificial heart requires, well, heart surgery, a device like this really needs to be able to last: “A device that lasts two to three years is, at best, a stopgap for transplant.” says Chon