Helping Hearts

Heart failure is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States.  About three quarters of a million people die each year due to heart disease, and many hundreds of thousands of patients have a very limited, poor quality of life because their heart is not able to pump enough blood for their activities of daily living.  To help the main pumping portion of the heart (the ventricles), pumps called “ventricular assist devices” have been developed and used with some success in patients to boost the blood output of the natural ventricle.  However, existing technologies cannot be used in all patients or under all medical indications.

Researchers in BME have built and tested a new ventricular assist device design.  The pump design can be scaled up or down to fit different sized people and, with simple modifications to its outside shape, can be adapted to different methods of clinical application.  Studies have proven that this prototype device, measuring not quite half an inch in diameter (10 millimeters, 0.45 inch – about the width of a marble) will fit in infants, and yet still provide enough blood flow assistance in adults.  A larger prototype (14 millimeters, or about .0.55 inches in diameter) will provide high-level assistance to children and adults.  A more miniaturized prototype (4.5 millimeters or 0.17 inches in diameter) can be placed under the skin for emergency resuscitation and other situations where surgery cannot be done; two pumps can easily be placed in patients with right- as well as left-ventricle heart failure.  Testing to date has shown high durability and good performance.

Summary:  We have developed a small, light, and elegantly simple heart-assist device that is compact enough to be suitable for implantation in infants.

See also: Fukamachi Lab