Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

  • An artificial heart developed by researchers at Oregon Health and Science University pumps water in the lab. If it the device makes it to human studies, the rubber tubes would be replaced by bio-compatible connectors.
  • OHSU News
  • Rewriting Life

    A simple artificial heart could permanently replace a failing human one

    The small, streamlined design could have benefits over other devices.

    Nearly 4,000 people in the US are waiting for heart transplants. And on average, it takes about six months to get one, during which time some patients will die.

    So researchers have been trying for decades to make an artificial heart that can be permanently implanted. But building one that imitates a real heart over a long period of time without breaking or causing infections or blood clots is incredibly difficult. One problem is that the more parts there are, the more things could go wrong.

    To solve the problem, Sanjiv Kaul and his team at Oregon Health and Science University are developing an artificial heart with an extremely simple design—it contains a single moving piece with no valves. They believe it could be the first such device that could last the rest of a person’s life.

    Originally designed by Richard Wampler, OHSU’s artificial heart creates a blood flow that mimics a natural pulse. It replaces the human heart’s two lower chambers, the ventricles, with a titanium tube containing a hollow rod that moves back and forth. This back-and-forth motion pushes blood to the lungs so it can extract oxygen and then move the oxygenated blood through the rest of the body.

    Kaul hopes the simple design will overcome the limitations of previous artificial hearts.

    The OSHU team’s artificial heart contains a single moving piece and no valves.
    OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

    The first artificial heart, AbioCor, got limited approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in 2006. It was implanted in just 15 people and is no longer available. About the size of a grapefruit, it was too large to fit in children and many women.

    Only one artificial heart, made by SynCardia, is currently available in the US. It’s meant to be a temporary fix while patients wait for a heart transplant. It requires people to carry around an external air compressor in a backpack that pumps the implanted artificial heart from the outside.

    Other companies, like Cleveland Heart and French firm Carmat, have also been trying to build a fully artificial heart. Last year, Swiss researchers reported that they had 3-D-printed one, but it started to degrade after only 45 minutes.

    Kaul and his team tested an early prototype of their artificial heart in cows and didn’t notice any problems or side effects. Next, they’re planning to test a smaller version—small enough to fit in children as young as 10—in sheep for about three months.

    “If it works for that long, we think we’ll be able to put it in people,” he says.

    Kaul thinks the device could be available to patients in five years or even perhaps even sooner.

    OHSU’s artificial heart will probably need to be charged with a small, hand-held battery pack outside the body. But the hope is that a smaller, more efficient battery could eventually be implanted under the skin and be recharged from the outside.

    Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

    Become an Insider
    Already an Insider? Log in.
    The OSHU team’s artificial heart contains a single moving piece and no valves.
    OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff
    More from Rewriting Life

    Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

    Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
    • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

      {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

      Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

      See details+

      Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

      Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

      The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

      Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

      10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

      Ad-free website experience

    /3
    You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.