Researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) are developing an artificial heart that may one day serve as a long-term replacement for failing natural hearts. This would be a major development, as the only FDA approved artificial heart, the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart , is only meant as a “bridge” to a transplant. OHSU’s device is intended to be applicable to patients as young as 10 years old and should also fit most adults.
Unlike many previously designed artificial hearts, the new device has few parts that are subject to failure. A rod made of a titanium alloy oscillates back and forth within a tube, moving blood to absorb oxygen in the lungs and transport it to the rest of the body. It is the only moving component of the artificial heart, and to prevent damage to blood cells it causes little turbulence to blood flow. Moreover, the moving rod doesn’t even touch the tube within which it moves back and forth, helping to prevent breakdowns. There are no valves to wear out or become calcified, further extending the utility of the new heart.
Because of the oscillating motion of the rod pumping the blood, the device restores the natural pulse that alive and healthy humans have. This is in contrast to other artificial hearts that create a continuous blood flow. The benefits of a pulse are not fully established, but they seem to include reduced chances for GI bleeds and stroke.
The OHSU heart is powered by an external electric source that’s backed up by a battery that can be carried by the patient. The battery can be used as the sole power source, and the researchers on the project believe that, once more capable batteries are created, their heart will be capable of letting a patient travel and live a relatively normal life.
The new device was initially designed at OHSU, then passed to a spinoff company called OregonHeart, only to return to OHSU when the company was disbanded.
Moving forward, the researchers pushing forward the development of the new heart plan on trying it on sheep during short-term studies, the success of which would permit studies lasting up to three months. If everything works out well in sheep, clinical studies would follow.
Check out the new heart in action:
Here’s a video that explains the device in a bit of detail: