Testing new cardiac techniques and devices on live animals requires proper oversight, regulation, and considerable expense. To overcome this, researchers at North Carolina State University developed a machine, specifically intended for study of mitral valve repair, that can pump a pig’s heart straight from the slaughterhouse.
“Researchers can obtain pig hearts from a pork processing facility and use the system to test their prototypes or practice new surgical procedures,” says Andrew Richards, a Ph. D. student in mechanical engineering at NC State who designed the heart machine.
The computer-controlled machine, which operates using pressurized saline solution, also allows researchers to film the interior workings of the pumping heart – enabling them to ascertain exactly which surgical technologies and techniques perform best for repairing heart valves.
By using the machine, researchers can determine if concepts for new surgical tools are viable before evaluating them on live animals. They can also identify and address any functional problems with new technological tools. “There will still be a need for testing in live animal models,” says Dr. Greg Buckner, who directed the project, “but this system creates an intermediate stage of testing that did not exist before. It allows researchers to do ‘proof of concept’ evaluations, and refine the designs, before operating on live animals.” Buckner is an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State.
Using the system could also save researchers a great deal of money. Once the machine is purchased and set up, the cost of running experiments is orders of magnitude less expensive than using live animals. “It costs approximately $25 to run an experiment on the machine,” says Richards, “whereas a similar experiment using a live animal costs approximately $2,500.”
Check out the machine in action:
Press release: ‘Beating’ Heart Machine Expedites Research and Development of New Surgical Tools, Techniques
Abstract in Annals of Biomedical Engineering: A Dynamic Heart System to Facilitate the Development of Mitral Valve Repair Technique