New bionic heart – A paradigm shift in artificial heart technology

As thousands of patients in the United States await heart transplants, a company called BiVACOR lights a ray of hope. Medical science has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last decade. From pacemakers  to heart transplants and artificial heart, the human heart has been a subject of intense study and research. What puts BiVACOR’s new bionic heart a cut above the rest is the fact that it is being positioned as a mechanical heart that does not beat. So, how is this so significant?

In keeping with normal heart function, the average human heart has to beat 42 million times a year, in the process of pumping oxygen-supplying blood to the various parts of your body. Now if such an organ was to be remodeled as a machine that copies this function exactly, think of the amount of wear and tear the pumping machine would be undergoing in the course of that one year! It is huge- in fact, if the human heart were to be replaced by such a machine, the artificial heart machine would require a lot of moving parts and would quickly wear out, putting a question mark on the longevity of the artificial heart transplant.

A breakthrough in artificial heart research, BiVACOR is developing the first machine of its kind that will propel blood throughout the body, without pumping it. This new bionic heart is just about half the size of a soda can and it has only one moving part- a spinning disc with fins suspended by two magnetic fields, so it’s never touching anything. Till date, artificial heart manufacturers have stuck to pulse based designs, this however is the first no heartbeat artificial heart. The small bladed disks that spin at 2000 revolutions per minute, propel blood around the body and lungs, without actually beating- so the person using it will function perfectly normally without having a pulse! The spinning disk micro-adjusts twenty thousand times in a second to keep the disk spinning flat and also precision adjusts the balance between the right and left sides of your heart 20 times a second.

Another interesting innovation has been the use of magnetic force to hold components together, which ensures that parts of the machine don’t directly touch against each other- this obviously means lesser wear and tear to the machine. This intelligent design finally paves the way for a permanent mechanical solution/replacement for heart failures- BiVACOR claims their bionic heart could last ten years longer than previous designs.

The device was conceived and initiated by Dr. Daniel Timms, a Brisbane engineer, way back in 2001, when he was studying at the Queensland University of Technology. The device, which has been successfully tested on sheep is expected to enter the clinical trial stage in the next three years. Internationally acclaimed cardiac surgeon Dr. Billy Cohn was part of the 25-strong team who implanted the artificial heart into the sheep specimens- the results were delightful. Six hours after surgery, the sheep were standing, eating, and walking- perfectly hale and hearty, without a pulse! Let’s hope the new device is able to save millions of lives across the world in years to come!

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