New artificial heart keeps you alive without a pulse
Patients equipped with breakthrough new artificial heart technology would produce no heartbeat and no pulse, thus appearing dead.
Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 02:34 AM
Photo: ZUMA Press
An 8-month-old calf named Abigail has no heart and no pulse. If you hooked her up to an EKG monitor, she would flatline — yet, she's alive. In fact, she appears completely unimpaired — a healthy and active young calf. How is this possible?
Abigail is the animal subject of an experimental new artificial heart technology that is capable of keeping a patient alive despite producing no heartbeat or pulse, reports MedicalXpress, an offshoot of PhysOrg.com
The technology is the brainchild of miracle medical workers Dr. Billy Cohn and Dr. Bud Frazier from the Texas Heart Institute, who have spent years trying to create an artificial heart that does not wear out or cause blood clots and infections. Their research culminated in the use of artificial heart technology that had been sitting right under their noses the whole time.
The researchers' device is a reapplication of technology in use since the 1980s — ventricular assist devices, or VADs. VADs were originally designed to assist patients who had either a failing left or right ventricle, but not both. Though VADs worked great as a partial heart replacement, no one had thought to reapply the technology to replace the whole heart. That's where Cohn and Frazier stepped in.
Their device is essentially two VADs hooked up together, working as both sides of the heart. The device uses blades that circulate and push the blood forward in a steady flow, so it does not produce a pulse — but it does the job of a real heartbeat just the same. Initial experiments with the reinvented artificial heart have been performed on calves, beginning with Abigail.
Abigail's heart was removed and completely replaced by the new pumping device, yet she didn't seem to miss a beat. After the experiment was repeated on a total of 38 calves with similar success, Cohn and Frazier were ready to try their device in a human patient.
Craig Lewis, a 55-year-old man who was dying from amyloidosis, was the first trial. After being given 12 hours to live, Lewis allowed the doctors to insert the new pumps into his chest. The device worked flawlessly, and Lewis miraculously recovered, but he lived for only another month before the disease took other organs.
Though the technology still needs to pass FDA approval and a manufacturer needs to be found, Cohn and Frazier are optimistic that their double VAD device ccould become the future of artificial heart technology. In the process, they may also redefine what it means to be alive — no pulse needed!