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Susan Cody: Is The Artificial Heart for Real? Technology That Is Still In Its Infancy

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This is one subject that can get technical but let's dive in anyway...

Experiments and research in artificial heart transplants began in 1930s Russia where dogs were used as test subjects.

The first clinical implantation of a total artificial heart was in 1969 and was implanted for two days until a donor heart could be found. The artificial one worked well - the recipient only died from complications when he got the donor heart.

The first patented artificial heart was invented by Paul Winchell in 1963. His patent was used by Dr. Robert Jarvik to create the Jarvik-7, used in about 90 people. Use was stopped because it was not as successful as Jarvik had hoped although it did temporarily help patients who desperately needed a working heart until it could be removed and replaced with a donor heart. Today, the new Jarvik 2000 is used in Europe as a permanent artificial heart transplant. It is awaiting approval in the United States for permanent use although it is used here in patients as they await their donor heart.

With up to 50,000 people needing heart transplants every year, and less that 2,500 getting them, you may ask why more people aren’t racing in line for a fake heart. Well, for several reasons. FDA approval is only just beginning. This kind of technology is still so new that it needs years of clinical trials and still needs final approval before it can be used as an everyday tool to combat death from heart failure. Devices that help pump blood are used successfully (called an LVAD and RVAD – the L and R standing for left or right side of the heart) and patients who may otherwise die while waiting for a donor heart are able to survive well with these devices. A 2007 interview by The National Health Museum with Dr. Mehmet Oz, M.D. can fill in some gaps. Although these devices are better used temporarily, Dr. Oz notes that “we have been favorably impressed by the number of patients who can survive for a number of years with LVADs.

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