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The artificial heart, a synthetic replacement for an organic mammalian
heart (usually human), remains one of the long-sought Holy Grails of
modern medicine. Although the heart is conceptually a simple organ
(basically a muscle that functions as a pump), it embodies complex
subtleties that defy straightforward emulation using synthetic
materials and power supplies. The obvious benefit is to lower the
demand for heart transplants, which (as it is for all organs) always
greatly exceeds supply.
Early attempts prior to Robert Jarvik with his Jarvik-7 were
disappointing; hosts died within hours or days and/or suffered massive
foreign-body rejection problems. Jarvik's human designs were more
impressive but his patients succumbed as well, his first Jarvik-7
patient 61-year-old retired dentist Barney Clark survived for 112 days
after it was implanted at the University of Utah on December 2, 1982.
Another problem is that an artificial heart requires an external power
supply such as a battery pack worn on the patient's waist; no design
so far has been able to use the body's own natural biological energy.
On July 2, 2001, Robert Tools received the first completely
self-contained artificial heart transplant at Jewish Hospital in
Louisville, Kentucky. It is called the AbioCor Implantable Replacement
Heart. Tom Christerson survived for 17 months after his artificial
heart transplant, the current record.
Most doctors are confident that with increased understanding of the
heart and continuing improvements in prosthetics engineering, computer
science, electronics, battery technology, fuel cells, etc. that the
artificial heart will be a reality sometime in the 21st century.
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