Artificial Hearts - The Beat Goes On

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Artificial Hearts - The Beat Goes On

Before we explore what is coming next, let’s quickly review the major milestones in the research to date. In the 1960s, scientists and engineers at the National Institutes of Health were quietly trying to develop a mechanical heart for extremely ill patients suffering from congestive heart failure. Then, in 1967, the news that a heart surgeon named Christiaan Barnard had transplanted a heart from one human to another rocked the world.

In 1969, Denton Cooley, a famous heart surgeon in Houston, implanted a mechanical heart in a patient who was about to die. It kept the patient alive for three days while a heart donor was found.

By the 1970s, various researchers were at work on other artificial hearts, but only one rose to the level of functionality needed for a real patient. Dr. Robert Jarvik developed the Jarvik 7 total artificial heart; Dr. William DeVries transplanted it into a Seattle dentist named Barney Clark in 1982.

The second Jarvik 7 was implanted in another patient, Bill Schroeder, in 1985, and by that time it was big news. President Ronald Reagan telephoned Schroeder to wish him well, and Schroeder went on to live for nearly two years.

During the next year, three more patients received the Jarvik 7 for permanent use, and although one of them died within a week, the other two lived between 10 and 14 months. The Jarvik 7 was primarily intended to act as a “bridge to transplant,” keeping patients with total heart failure alive until a donor could be found. Patients receiving this type of treatment were living up to 14 years.

In October 2004, the FDA issued a full approval of the device for this purpose, and it has now been renamed the CardioWest total artificial heart. As of 2006, more than 350 patients have received the Jarvik 7 artificial heart, which is available today at 10 medical centers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

But, in the 25 years since the Jarvik 7 was invented, various other implantable cardiac devices have come onto the market, such as HeartMate and Novacor. These are so-called left ventricular assist devices, which help the patient’s own heart pump more efficiently.

At the same time, work has continued toward the dream of creating a complete mechanical replacement heart. The most successful of these originated at a company called Abiomed. The FDA approved its novel design, the AbioCor heart, in September 2006 for total and permanent replacement of the human heart.

The device, which we’ve previously highlighted in Trends, is the size of a grapefruit and will cost about $250,000...

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