In the worst cases, the only treatment is a transplant. But with more hearts failing than being donated, patients can spend years on a waiting list.
To help people awaiting a transplant, French company Carmat has developed a “total artificial heart” — a device to replace the whole heart until a donor can be found.
Similar in shape to a human heart and weighing 4 kilograms, it is powered by two battery packs that provide around four hours of charge before the device needs to be connected to a mains power supply.
Sensors detect blood pressure and in response, an algorithm controls the blood flow in real time. “It works like a human heart so if the patient walks, the blood flow increases and if the patient is at rest, the blood flow is stable and low,” Carmat CEO Stéphane Piat tells CNN Business.
Ready for market
Carmat hopes to start selling its artificial heart in Germany by the end of June. By the end of the year, Piat aims for Carmat to have made 20 hearts, which will be sold to hospitals for over €160,000 each ($190,000). While its suitable for most men, the current design is too big for most women.
Martin Cowie, a professor of cardiology at Imperial College London, says researchers have been trying for decades to create a mechanical pump that can completely replace a heart. He says past attempts frequently caused strokes, blood clots, and infections, but the materials used by Carmat are a step in the right direction.
He adds that the design is an interesting concept. “Time will tell … but I like their ideas,” he tells CNN Business.
Another French company — CorWave — is developing a device for people with less severe heart failure. It helps pump blood from one of the heart’s four chambers, rather than replacing the whole heart.
“We’re able to track the activity of the patient and are able to adapt the flow to the patient’s needs,” he says.
A device for life
Although Carmat and CorWave will initially market their devices as temporary measures for patients awaiting a transplant, the long-term goal for both companies is to make devices that can be used permanently.
“The vision is (for it) to be used as … a device for life,” says Piat. “But that means collecting longer term data, so it takes more time.”
Cowie is pleased to see companies trying new approaches, and believes many people could benefit.
“I think we could get to the stage where we could honestly say to patients that you’re as likely to do well with a mechanical pump as you are with a transplantation,” he says.