Office Of Public Affairs

An Artificial Heart for the 21st Century

Jan 1, 2007 5:00 PM

Technology pioneered at University of Utah continues to save lives of those suffering from congestive heart failure.

When doctors determined Mark Enger needed a heart transplant because of his congestive heart failure, they referred him to the University of Utah where he was implanted with both an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) and RVAD (Right Ventricular Assist Device). These two artificial hearts kept him alive for four months while he waited for a donor heart to become available. Enger received a heart transplant this past December.

"My artificial hearts got me up and running again," said Enger, a 51-year old resident of Montana. The devices worked so well that he was able to attend a University of Utah football game last year with his family--something he physically wouldn't have been able to do a few months earlier.

Since 1996, University of Utah cardiac surgeons have implanted LVADs as a "bridge" in patients awaiting transplants.

By improving heart function, the devices enable the patients' bodies to recover from the effects of heart failure, including diminished kidney function and a decrease in muscle mass.

Doctors say the LVADs are an accessory to the heart, not a replacement-- yet. When the technology improves, though, mechanical support may become as good as transplantation as a destination therapy for end-stage heart disease but applicable to more people.

While doctors say survival rates and quality of life improve with the LVAD, the devices seem to last only about three years due to problems such as worn bearings in the electrical motor and valve degeneration. LVADs can be replaced, but that involves additional surgeries-- with adherent risks for patients. Models with continuous flow pumps are being tested in clinical trials. Instead of pulsatile pumps--powered by a battery pack patients wear around their waist--second-generation LVADs have a miniature rotary pump with axial bearings.

The size of a D battery, the device will especially benefit smaller patients. Third-generation LVADs, still under laboratory investigation, have centrifugal pumps suspended in a magnetic field.

LVADs are only one of many therapies available to patients at the University of Utah: pacing devices, defibrillators, and conventional and experimental medicinal therapies, as well as high-risk bypass and valve surgery also are offered.

Visit our Spotlight Archive for a complete list of previous Spotlights.