Heart With No Beat May Save Lives

After decades of trial and error in the search for the perfect artificial heart, doctors at the Texas Heart Institute say they have developed a machine that may be “just the fit.”

According to NPR, Dr. Billy Cohn and Dr. Bud Frazier have developed a heart that has no beat. This new method would avoid all the complicated whirling rotors of artificial hearts that often wear out, cause clots and infections, or break down completely.

The doctors successfully implemented a beat-less heart into an 8-month-old calf at the institute’s animal research laboratory. Cohn and Frazier removed Abigail’s heart and replaced it with two centrifugal pumps. A “beat-less,” heart was the result.

The “beat-less” heart is unique in that if you listened to the chest of someone with the artificial heart you wouldn’t hear a heartbeat. Nor would you be able to get a pulse. The centrifugal pumps spin the blood and move it throughout her body.

After practicing on 38 calves, Cohn and Frazier successfully implemented the device in a human this past March.  Craig Lewis, a 55-year-old dying from amyloidosis was selected as the first human to test out the beat-less heart. Lewis’s heart had been damaged to the point where doctors felt he had 12 hours left to live. Although the pumps themselves worked flawlessly Lewis died a month later due his underlying disease.

Many other people including Vice President Dick Cheney have also successfully implemented the “beat-less” heart. Doctors believe the continuous-flow pump should last much longer than other artificial hearts and have fewer negative side effects being that unlike other artificial hearts the new centrifugal pumps only have one moving part.

To bring the continuous-flow artificial heart to the market, doctors will need to decide on a final design, contact a manufacturer, and eventually get FDA approval. Biomedical companies across the country continue to work to perfect the pulsing artificial heart yet the heart with no beat demonstrates they are getting much closer.