Artificial heart devices provide circulatory support to patients awaiting donor hearts; patients in need of temporary support while their damaged hearts heal; and patients in need of permanent or ongoing support.
In 1990, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was the first to discharge a patient on a ventricular assist device, a small pump that takes on some of the heart's burden. Since then, the UPMC Artificial Heart Program has enabled some 90 patients with end-stage heart failure to return to their homes, rather than to intensive care, to await a donor heart.
At the McGowan Institute, researchers are developing and testing ever more advanced heart assist devices. The McGowan Institute was instrumental in the development of the Thoratec Heartmate II rotary blood pump, now in clinical trials worldwide.
Our long-term vision for mechanical heart devices is to use them to give a heart a rest while it repairs itself with the help of cell therapy, such as a patient's own stem cells injected into damaged areas of their heart.
Bridge to Recovery
While ventricular assist devices are critical as a "bridge to transplant" for patients who can no longer be managed medically, McGowan Institute researchers have demonstrated that the devices can be used as a bridge to recovery as well — making heart transplantation unnecessary. The Artificial Heart Program team has successfully weaned patients with certain kinds of heart disease off ventricular assist devices. Weaning requires a level of scrutiny that only this team can provide: UPMC clinicians and industry partners developed new ways to look into the heart itself to see how well it performs when the ventricular assist device is slowed or temporarily halted.
In summer 2004, UPMC discharged its first patient with a permanent artificial heart. The Heartmate XVE Left Ventricular Assist System is a permanent assist device approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for so-called destination therapy. It is intended for patients with end-stage heart failure who, despite receiving optimal treatment, have a life expectancy of fewer than two years and are not viable candidates for heart transplantation.
To address the critical need for pediatric artificial hearts, the National Institutes of Health has funded the McGowan Institute's efforts to develop PediaFlow, a quarter-sized heart support system that provides assistance for up to six months, either as a bridge to transplant or to recovery. PediaFlow is designed for children from birth to 2 years.