Scientists at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a completely new type of heart pump that does not make any contact with the blood that it’s augmenting. There’s a number of pumps on the market, including total heart replacements and left ventricular assist devices (LVAD), but they all inevitably cause damage to red blood cells. Moreover, the turbulence produced by the pumps can lead to the formation of clots, requiring patients to be on anticoagulants.
The new cardiac support pump consists of a set of rings that are positioned around the aorta that are able to contract and expand. When their movement is coordinated, the rings are able to create pressure waves that help move the blood through the aorta. (In a way, the idea is reminiscent of externally placed intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP), even though IABP is a diastolic augmentation device primarily for coronary flow.)
The technology relies on EPFL’s Dielectric Electro Active polymer (DEAP) that rapidly changes shape in response to electrical current. The current is induced via a magnetic field that can be delivered using an external device, so no wires need to penetrate the skin and infections are less likely. There are more development steps needed before the technology will be tried on humans, but the researchers are already working with folks at University Hospital of Bern about conducting clinical trials.
Here’s a video with the scientists behind the pump explaining how it works and the benefits it’s expected to bring: