Nothing is more human than the heart. Yes, that illustrious organ that pumps blood and its life-sustaining nutrients around our bodies nonstop until we die. It fuels the leader of the whole operation: the brain. Overall, it's safe to say that the heart is a rather important thing to have, and replacing one that isn't doing its job is not a trivial exercise, as even the best artificial hearts demand significant compromises to quality of life. A true artificial heart would be able to replace a human heart in all the ways that matter, and five years ago, DVICE reported the imminent arrival of such a device. Now it’s here.
It took ten hours for the new artificial heart to be implanted into a human during a procedure at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris this past Wednesday. The “heart,” made by French company Carmat, can allegedly work for up to five years. You might be wondering what makes this special, since we've heard of artificial hearts before. Carmat’s is the first self-regulating artificial heart, meaning it will respond to the patient’s actual physiological needs. In other words, if the patient exercises, the artificial heart will beat faster as a real heart would. The enormity of this seemingly innocuous fact is hard to overstate. Previously, folks with artificial hearts had to leave completely different lives than they had before surgery. Since most artificial hearts beat at a constant rate, they can’t keep up with the demands of an active life.
The heart, which is powered by an external lithium-ion battery pack that the patient wears, weighs in at two pounds. That’s because it’s loaded with sensors and microprocessors that monitor the changes inside the body. By keeping constant tabs on what the rest of the body is up to, it can slow down or speed up as needed. It’s also covered in cow tissue, which helps prevent blood from clotting, as it often does when coming in contact with foreign materials.
As for specifically how it works, let’s defer to MIT Tech Review:
“In Carmat’s design, two chambers are each divided by a membrane that holds hydraulic fluid on one side. A motorized pump moves hydraulic fluid in and out of the chambers, and that fluid causes the membrane to move; blood flows through the other side of each membrane. The blood-facing side of the membrane is made of tissue obtained from a sac that surrounds a cow’s heart, to make the device more biocompatible. ‘The idea was to develop an artificial heart in which the moving parts that are in contact with blood are made of tissue that is [better suited] for the biological environment,’ says Piet Jansen, chief medical officer of Carmat.”
At present, the heart is in its first test human. The first hurdle is keeping the test patient alive for a month. As scary and cold as that might sound, these patients were all in the final stage of heart failure. If it works for a month, the company can then seek regulatory approval to make them available to the entire European Union.
Check out the Reuters video below for more information.