Two University of Houston (UH) engineering professors have received a $2.8 million federal grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a new artificial heart technology. In order to create a pulseless total artificial heart (TAH), they 'are focusing on developing a control system that emulates how the natural heart responds to physiological conditions within the body.' According to the scientists, their future device will be smaller, lighter and more reliable than existing pulsating artificial hearts. The team will work on these artificial hearts for the next four years, so don't expect to see them appearing on the medical market before a while. But read more...
You can see above the picture of "a device similar to the less-costly, smaller pulseless artificial heart to be created that will perform the function of both the right and left ventricles of the heart. (Credit: Thomas Shea, UH) Here is a link to a larger version of this photo.
This new artificial heart technology will be developed by Matt Franchek and Ralph Metcalfe, both mechanical engineering professors in the UH Cullen College of Engineering. During the next four years, they will work with the lead investigator and inventor of the proposed TAH, Dr. O. H. Frazier, chief of the Center for Cardiac Support and director of surgical research at the Texas Heart Institute, as well as professors from Rice University, other Texas Heart Institute physicians and researchers from MicroMed Technology of Houston, to create this artificial heart device.
So how will work a pulseless artificial heart? "The proposed TAH replaces the pulsatile feature with two pulseless continuous flow pumps, each about the size of a C battery. The pumps also are unique in that their cardiac output automatically adjusts to physiological needs. To ensure proper integration of the TAH on a patient-to-patient basis, the UH team will be adding onboard intelligence to the TAH using automatic controls. One pump would be dedicated to the pulmonary loop, carrying oxygen-depleted blood away from the heart to the lungs and returning oxygenated blood back to the heart. The other pump would drive the systemic loop, carrying oxygenated blood away from the heart to the body and returning deoxygenated blood back to the heart."
And why this artificial heart is better than current ones already approved by the FDA? "The overarching goal is to create a robust continuous-flow ventricular assist device that is smaller and more reliable than the current pulsating pumps that mimic the natural heart. The mathematical models of the cardiovascular system also will be evaluated as a possible means to health prognostics and diagnostics. In addition, information from the controllers will be used to assess current conditions of the blood, including viscosity, which is critical to maintaining patient health."
Here are some quotes from the UH professors. "'We are very much looking forward to a long-term collaboration with this excellent biomedical engineering team and to the potential development of an effective, reliable mechanical replacement for the failing human heart,' says Metcalfe. 'With heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States, this is crucial research that constantly needs fresh approaches and interaction across disciplines.' Echoing his colleague, Franchek adds, 'What we have here is a good partnership between engineers and physicians. We are harvesting knowledge from a fertile ground where many new discoveries lie, and at the end of the day our goal is to improve many people’s quality of life.'"
For more comments, you can read an October 13, 2008 article by Lewis Page in The Register, "Texan boffins working on electric cyber-heart." And by some kind of coincidence, SynCardia Systems, Inc. which manufactures the CardioWest artificial heart -- already approved by the FDA -- issued a press release about its product on October 8, 2008, "'Put Down the BBQ Ribs, We’ve Found You a Donor Heart,' Nurse Tells Patient."
Sources: University of Houston news release, October 9, 2008; and various websites
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