Getting to the Heart of Health Care

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Getting to the Heart of Health Care

In the 1980s, artificial hearts made a lot of news for a time.  Several patients received a device invented by Robert Jarvik called the Jarvik 7 artificial heart.  It was approved by the FDA in 2004 and renamed the CardioWest.  As Trends1 reported in 2006, some 350 patients received that device.  Unfortunately, it was bulky, horrendously invasive, and did damage to delicate components of the blood, such as red blood cells. 

Other artificial hearts were developed, but all suffered from various types of problems and none has proved a satisfactory substitute for a human heart.  Nevertheless, researchers continued quietly developing and testing devices to help ailing hearts. 

Now, finally, the ventricular assist device (VAD) has come of age.  The ventricles in the heart are the chambers that actually pump the blood.  There are two, one on the right and one on the left.  VADs essentially act as boost pumps to make the heart more efficient and improve the quality of life for heart patients.2  VADs were originally prescribed primarily for patients awaiting a heart transplant.  But they are now being commonly used as a long-term aid for those with congestive heart failure as well as "a bridge to recovery" that can be removed once the patient's own heart has grown stronger. 

One of the newest VADs now undergoing clinical trials is called Levacor.  It was developed by the WorldHeart Corporation of Salt Lake City, Utah.3  To pump blood, Levacor functions as a centrifugal pump with a rotor that is suspended magnetically so that it doesn't require bearings in order to spin.  This is crucial, because it
minimizes damage to blood cells. 

Once Levacor completes clinical trials as a "bridge to transplant" device, further trials will be conducted in a "bridge to recovery" role.  In that role, the VAD will take the primary load off a patient's heart so it can either heal naturally or with treatments using drugs or stem cell

The University of Utah, where the Levacor trials are underway, is already using stem cells for heart therapy.  The adult stem cells are harvested from the heart patients themselves to avoid any chance of rejection.  Then they are injected into the heart directly, where they develop into healthy heart muscle tissue.

Illustrating just how far stem cell therapy has come in terms of rejuvenating a damaged heart, the Mayo Clinic recently announced in the journal Circulation

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