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Artificial heart overview

Published: June 21, 2009. Updated: July 27, 2009

An artificial heart is a mechanical device that is implanted into the body to replace the biological heart.

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.

FDA approved artificial hearts

CardioWest temporary Total Artificial Heart

The CardioWest temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH-t) (SynCardia Systems, Inc.) is the first and only FDA-approved Total Artificial Heart. It received FDA approval on Oct. 15, 2004, following a 10-year pivotal clinical study.

AbioCor Replacement Heart

The AbioCor Replacement Heart (Abiomed) received FDA approval under a Humanitarian Device Exemption (HDE) on Sept. 5, 2006. The AbioCor is approved for use in severe biventricular end stage heart disease patients who are not eligible for heart transplant and have no other viable treatment options.

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