How Close Are We to Creating an Artificial Heart?
Over the years, artificial heart technology has continued to grow in popularity and success. While there is no permanent artificial heart technology, continuing updates and advancements show promise. Understanding the history of artificial technology and where we currently stand can help you understand the future of artificial heart technology.
History of Artificial Heart Technology
In 1947, Dr. Willem Johan Kolff began his groundbreaking research into developing a heart-lung machine and artificial heart, developing the first heart-lung machine in 1956. Surgeons performed the first successful permanent synthetic heart procedure in 1982 on a 61-year-old Barney Clark at the University of Utah.
For this first artificial heart surgery, Kolff led the team of surgeons. He joined the University of Utah team in 1967 and continued his work on artificial heart technology. In 1971, Kolff met Dr. Robert Jarvik, who he hired for his study team working on creating artificial organs.
Kolff regularly named the artificial hearts after those who worked on them, leading to the Jarvik 7, an artificial heart prototype. At age 25, Jarvik received widespread credit and fame for the device that bore his name.
Before the 1982 heart transplantation surgery, the Jarvik 7 underwent rigorous clinical trials. Unfortunately, Clark only lived for 112 days following the artificial heart transplant. The second recipient of an artificial heart lived for 620 days following heart surgery.
Unfortunately, the third artificial heart recipient died from surgical complications including blood loss, and the subsequent recipients lived for 10 and 14 months after surgery. The Jarvik 7’s primary design flaw was that it required a bulky pneumatic console, meaning the patient could not leave the hospital. This shortcoming prevented the Jarvik 7 from being a viable long-term artificial heart transplant.
Current Artificial Heart Technology
An artificial heart is a device that maintains oxygen and blood circulation throughout the body. There are two types of artificial hearts, including the heart-lung machine and the mechanical heart.
The heart-lung machine is a medical device that uses a pump to maintain adequate oxygenation and blood flow during heart surgery. The heart-lung machine delivers blood from the veins and redirects it through tubing into the artificial lunger, also known as the oxygenator, and then returning the blood to the body.
The oxygenator helps add oxygen to the blood while removing excess carbon dioxide. The blood pumped into the arteries can sustain life even at the most distant body parts and the organs with extensive requirements, including the kidney, brain and liver.
To achieve this, the artificial heart will need 1.3 gallons or more of blood pumped each minute. When the patient’s heart does not need to pump, it can stop if the heart-lung machine operates. With a heart-lung machine, a cardiac surgeon can perform open-heart surgery to repair blocked arteries, valves and more.
A mechanical heart includes ventricular assist devices and total artificial hearts. These machines can assist or replace the heart’s pumping action for extended periods without causing excessive damage to blood components.
To place a mechanical heart, a surgeon will need to remove the patient’s ventricles. VADs can support the left or right ventricle, allowing the whole heart to remain within the body. In most cases, surgeons only place mechanical hearts when maximal medical management has proven ineffective.
Health providers may use a mechanical heart to resuscitate a patient following cardiac arrest. Additionally, a mechanical heart may be beneficial for cardiogenic shock recovery following heart surgery or for patients who experience chronic heart failure and are awaiting a heart transplant.
In some cases, doctors have used mechanical hearts if a patient does not qualify for heart transplantation. The primary goal with a mechanical heart is to provide an effective, safe system, allowing recipients to enjoy an improved quality of life. Some mechanical heart recipients have returned to daily activities and even work.
Future of Artificial Heart Technology
Artificial heart technology continues to advance, with researchers creating innovative, state-of-the-art prototypes for testing. Some of the most notable innovations in artificial heart technology include the following.
1. 3D-Printed Heart
In Switzerland, researchers at ETH Zurich created a silicone-based heart using 3D printing technology. The 3D-printed heart consists of a soft implantable material, possesses right and left ventricles and can pump liquids resembling blood. The printed heart also weighs approximately the same as a natural human heart.
While the 3D-printed heart is a promising prototype, it can only beat continuously for 30-minute periods. Wendelin Stark, a Swiss Science and Technology University professor, created the pulsing heart alongside doctoral student Nicholas Cohrs and other researchers by using a wax casting technique.
2. Aerospace Heart
Chinese researchers have used aerospace technology to design an artificial heart. On Jan. 13, 2021, a medical team implanted the aerospace artificial heart into a patient suffering from heart failure. This artificial heart, known as HeartCon, is a medical device that can pump and deliver blood throughout the body to alleviate heart failure symptoms.
While heart transplants are effective, many patients may have to wait long periods for a suitable donor. HeartCon can enhance the quality of life and prolong the lives of patients in advanced stages of heart failure.
3. Titanium and Magnet Heart
BiVACOR is an innovative artificial heart that uses magnets and titanium. While many artificial hearts focus on mimicking how a real heart pumps blood, the BiVACOR uses one spinning disc to send blood to the lungs and body. The high-tech rotary pump sits between magnets, meaning there is very little mechanical wear.
Additionally, because there are so few moving parts, the remainder of the artificial heart consists of sturdy titanium. This titanium heart can adapt its overall output to each patient’s physiological needs, so it can pump faster during exercise or be small enough for children.
Researchers also hope to combine this technology with wireless battery charging so a surgeon can implant a battery pack with the heart, eliminating the need for external devices.
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