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Sunday, July 14th, 2024

Heart Pump Machine: The idea came at the dinner table and an affordable heart pump was made, heart patients will get relief

New Delhi: About ten years ago, Chennai-based heart and lung transplant surgeon K. R. Balakrishnan and bioengineering professor Pete Ayre at the University of New South Wales, Australia, met for dinner at a Chennai hotel. When the conversation turned to artificial heart pumps, they borrowed a pencil from the waiter and drew some designs on a paper napkin. The amazing thing was when the designs made on the dinner table reached the lab in just a few years and are now ready. After 5 years of hard work, scientists have created two types of artificial heart pumps – one for the left side and one for the right side (the smaller one). Currently, they are being tested on sheep in Australia. If all goes well, by December 2024, it will also start testing on humans in India and Australia.

“We never thought we would progress so much”

Balakrishnan, head of the heart and lung transplant department at MGM Healthcare, says, ‘We never thought that we would make so much progress.’ he/she said, ‘Our discussions were just going on like this. When I left the hotel, I did not think that anything would come out of it. I was surprised when Pete called me a week later and things started moving forward.’ Actually, both of them have formed a company named Cardiobionic together. The planning of both was very clear. Both of them want to make an artificial heart pump that can be a permanent and affordable treatment for the problem of heart failure. Actually, the cost of artificial heart pumps available in the market right now is 100,000 US dollars i.e. more than 80 lakh rupees. This team wanted to make a pump that was available at four times less price. Pete Ayre, bioengineering professor at the University of New South Wales, says, ‘The pumps that are available now are very big and heavy, almost equal to a cricket ball. Although doctors can pump outside the chest as well, it is not suitable for small children and weak people.’

Money had become an obstacle in the project

Nowadays, artificial heart pumps support only one part of the heart, the left ventricle. Many times these pumps are fitted to patients, but later the right part of the heart becomes weak, due to which they may have to stay in the ICU for life. But making an artificial heart pump is not an easy task. Balakrishnan says, ‘When the studies being done in the lab and the designs being made started giving hope of success, the team faced the first obstacle. The team needed money.’ Balakrishnan says, ‘I talked to more than 50 businessmen from all over the world. Two Indian investors agreed to invest money. Only then did this project gain momentum.’

Why is this heart pump special?

  • After 5 years of hard work, scientists have made a special pump that supports both parts of the heart. To run this pump, only a small machine and a small device is needed. The best thing is that its price is four times less than the devices available in the market now. This pump is made of a strong metal called titanium and inside it is fitted a special device called ‘Non-Contact Impella’.
  • This device draws blood from the lower part of the heart (ventricle) and transports it to the main artery that supplies oxygen to the body. Pete Ayre said, ‘It floats in the blood and keeps rotating continuously. This means that this is not just a short-term treatment, but it can also reduce the need for a heart transplant.’ Many heart failure patients across the country die in the hope of treatment because it is difficult for them to get a heart.
  • Ayre further says, ‘Organ transplantation is a complex process. With increased awareness, organs are now being obtained from patients who have died of brain death, but not every heart can be used because they have to be transplanted very quickly, within about four hours. Heart transplant facilities are not available in most parts of the world. This new pump can prevent many such deaths.’

Pumps to support the right side of the heart

The team has developed a special pump that supports only the right side of the heart. This pump made for adults can also be used to support the left ventricle in children. Balakrishnan said, ‘No special pump has been made for children yet.’ However, more research is needed to know why some hearts stop working even after installing an artificial pump.

Patients can be monitored via the internet

Meanwhile, the team is trying to convert the pump into a device that can be monitored remotely. This means that patients can be monitored from anywhere, via the internet. Apart from this, efforts are also being made to make the entire system wireless. Balakrishnan said, ‘Right now, a wire connects the pump to a console outside the body. This can increase the risk of infection. Doctors are advising the team to make the pump as efficient as the human heart.

Testing is going on on sheep in Australia

Pete Ayre, a bioengineering professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, says, “During pregnancy, exercise or an emergency, the heart can increase its capacity by up to 50%. We want to create a pressure sensor that helps the pump do this.” Although tests being conducted on sheep in Australia are showing positive results, the team is trying to get permission for use of this product in India, America and Europe.

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