Eliminating the Need for Heart Transplants

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Eliminating the Need for Heart Transplants

As the world’s population ages, the incidence of heart disease is rising. It is now the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 611,000 deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than all types of cancer combined.1

For many patients with severe heart disease, the only hope of survival is to receive a heart transplant. But the demand for donated hearts has been increasing rapidly due to the inevitable forces of demographics: The oldest members of the Baby Boom generation—those born in 1946—will turn seventy this year.

According to AARP, 2.5 million of the 3.4 million people born in 1946 are still alive and 2016 is just the first of eighteen years in which millions of Boomers will reach seventy.2

As America’s population gets older, the incidence of heart failure increases, and—in the worst cases (called end-stage biventricular heart disease), in which the arteries on both sides of the heart are damaged—so does the demand for donor hearts for transplants.

However, the number of heart donations has gone up only slightly over the past twenty-five years—from 2,179 in 1990 to 2,854 in 2015—according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).3

As a result, based on the latest count by the HHS, 4,144 Americans are currently on the waiting list for a donated heart. Unfortunately, almost one in five patients on the list will either die or become too sick for a transplant while waiting for a donor heart.

Of course, the cost of severe heart disease includes not just the medical bills of patients who wait years for transplants, but also the cost of lost productivity to patients, their families, and their doctors.

The situation would be even worse if not for less drastic measures that keep many patients with heart disease from reaching the stage where a transplant is necessary. Surgical interventions like angioplasties have dramatically reduced the incidence of damaged hearts. And even when a heart is damaged, stem cell therapies and left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) can restore normal function in many cases.

But for patients for whom those treatments are not an option, the only hope is to receive a new heart. With donors in short supply, there is now a large and growing number of transplant candidates who either need to survive while waiting for a transplant, or who will never receive a transplant.

The ideal solution would be to install a mechanical device that could reliably replace the human heart.

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