Australian researchers have developed the world's first bionic heart that pumps blood without a pulse and it could be ready for human trials within three years. If everything goes according to plan, the device could provide a real alternative to organ donation for the hundreds of people who are diagnosed with heart disease every year. In January, a combined surgical team from Brisbane, Texas, Sydney and Melbourne removed a sheep's heart, chosen for its similarity in chest size to women and children, and replaced it with the device.
The device, designed by Brisbane engineer Dr Daniel Timms, has been successfully transplanted into a live and healthy sheep. Timms, who started the project in 2001 while studying at the Queensland University of Technology, said the device, known as BiVACOR, could last 10 years longer than previous artificial heart designs because of lack of wear and tear on parts.
The bionic heart has a small bladed disk spins in the heart at 2,000 revolutions per minute to pump blood around the body without a pulse, a significant departure from traditional pulse-based designs, which included balloon-like sacs to pump blood, 'Brisbane Times' reported. "There were other devices that were quite large, and they also would break quite easily. And the reason they would break is they would have a sac, so if you're beating them billions of times per year, they're going to break," Timms said.
He said the new device addressed the problem of wear and tear by using magnetic levitation technology to keep the components from touching. "It means there's no wear and that's the key of the device - it can actually last for up to 10 years or longer without wearing out," he said. "And that's a paradigm shift actually from these earlier pulse-style devices that couldn't last for more than two years," he added.
Professor John Fraser from the Prince Charles Hospital's said there was excitement and almost relief that more than a decade of hard work had paid off.
"We've now shown that the device works. This idea is viable. Now it's a matter of making it robust and reliable so that it works in a patient," Timms said. "The time frame is three to five years before it could be ready for humans. We need to test it for a year to confirm its safety and regulatory properties before we implant it in a patient," he said.
According to researchers, at least $5 million is needed to take the device to clinical trials and Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital has started a campaign to help. Professor John Fraser hopes similar collaborations between researchers from Australia and other parts of the world could develop other breakthroughs in artificial lungs or even improve upon on bionic heart design.
The team of specialists were recently awarded a coveted Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) grant by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Picture credit: Prince Charles Hospital
With Inputs from PTI