You may probably have heard about artificial heart valves and pacemakers. These instruments help repair a particular part of the heart. But what if there’s a problem with your heart that cannot be fixed by medications or any instrument?
You will need a heart transplant. A heart transplant involves removing a heart from one person and placing it in other person who has an untreatable heart illness. But getting a new heart is not as easy as it sounds.
People who need heart transplants are placed on a transplant list, which are preetttty long. And to top it all off, hearts cannot be matched anyhow. The donor (the person giving his heart) and the recipient (the person who receives a donated heart) have to be compatible. The donor and recipient must have the same blood type and similar body size. Also, the recipient must be living close to the donor, because a heart once taken out of the body can last between four to six hours. Due to this, some people do not live long enough to receive a transplant. Here’s where total artificial hearts come in.
Total artificial hearts may sound bizarre but they’ve been around for more than 30 years. The first permanent total artificial heart that was ever successfully implanted into a human was the Javirk-7 in 1982, created by a doctor named Robert Javrik. It was implanted into a dentist with heart failure named Barney Clark. He lived for 112 days. Prior to that, artificial hearts had been implanted into animals and Paul Winchell had made the first artificial heart. But it was never patented or implanted.
Today, Javrik 7 is still being used today alongside other brands but has been renamed the CardioWest Heart. But the current record for survival after implantation of the artificial heart is 17 months and it is mainly used to extend a patient’s life until a donor for a heart transplant is found. There is still a lot of research going on in this area.
A researcher at the Swiss university, ETH Zurich named Nicholas Cohrs, has a new approach to solving the problem. He is attempting to make a model that resembles an actual heart as closely as possible. So far he has succeeded. His silicone heart is the first entirely soft artificial heart and weighs only 390 grams. It also beats similar to an actual heart. In spite of all this, Cohrs’s heart only beats for about half an hour to quarter of an hour before falling apart. Da da da duhhhhh. His research is to continue though and hopefully soon an efficient permanent total artificial heart would be here.
Total artificial hearts do have some disadvantages. Firstly, in some artificial hearts an external power source is used which must be carried around and must be recharged. Imagine having to bear the constant noise from the machine! Also, blood thinners must be taken to reduce blood clots. Recipients also stand a chance of getting infections and stroke. Lastly, smaller people may be unable to receive an artificial heart due to the small size of their chest cavity.
But making a heart is no easy feat. The device must be able to pump enough blood at a time without causing the blood to clot. It must be small enough to fit the chest and should be biocompatible (not harmful to tissue or rejected by the body). Power must be supplied to the heart to make it pump and little heat should be generated from the artificial heart. Ready for the challenge??