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Susan Young Rojahn

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Smallest Artificial Heart Keeps Baby Alive

Italian doctors implant tiny pump into a 16-month-old boy awaiting his new heart.

  • May 24, 2012

Here’s a new twist on an long-running story: an artificial heart kept a baby boy alive for 13 days while doctors waited for his new heart, reports Reuters. The bridge-to-transplant device was an infant version of the Jarvik 2000 and weighed only 11 grams (you can see the device in this slideshow). The titanium implant does not beat but instead uses a rotating motion to pump blood from the heart and through the body.

The baby-sized device was invented by American entrepreneur and doctor Robert Jarvik and had previously been tested only in animals. Jarvik’s artificial hearts first made headlines in 1982 when an early model was implanted into a 61-year-old man. That pioneering patient lived for 112 days. Since then, artificial heart technology has vacillated between hated and hopeful  (see Antonio Regalado’s 1999 feature CPR for the Artificial Heart  and Emily Singer’s 2006 story An Artificial Heart That Doesn’t Beat). The Jarvik 2000 has been used as both a bridge-to-transplant device as well as a “destination therapy” for European patients ineligible for heart transplants. The FDA recently granted conditional approval of a 350-patient study for the Jarvik 2000 as a destination therapy in the U.S, meaning it would be used to extend the lives of people who are dying from congestive heart failure.

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