HERSHEY, Pa. – A new heart device in development at Penn State College of Medicine could one day help people born with a serious heart defect. Researchers working on the project have received more than $4 million from the US Army Research and Development Command to design a wireless pump that will act as the missing right ventricle in some people born with heart defects.
Up to 1,200 babies are born in the United States each year with only one functioning ventricle due to congenital heart defects. Blood without oxygen normally returns to the heart to be transported to the lungs for oxygen via the right ventricle. However, in patients born with only one ventricle, surgeons perform a Fontan procedure, where deoxygenated blood bypasses the heart and flows directly to the lungs to receive oxygen before returning to the heart to be pumped back to the heart. rest of the body through the ventricle alone.
Survival rates for babies who receive the Fontan procedure have improved over the past few decades, but as these patients become young adults, they can experience serious complications that affect their quality of life, including retention of water, swelling, abnormal cardiac output and liver failure. Guillaume WeissProfessor of Surgery Howard E. Morgan in the College of Medicine’s Applied Biomedical Engineering Division, is leading a project to develop a device that he hopes will help prevent these complications.
“Finding long-term solutions for these patients is critical,” Weiss said. He noted that heart transplantation is a poor option due to the limited number of donor hearts and previous surgeries and blood transfusions that produce antibodies against donor tissue. “We envision a device that essentially acts like the right ventricle and will pump blood to the lungs to receive oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.”
Although left ventricular assist devices are available for long-term support in patients with left ventricular failure, there are currently no devices available for long-term support or replacement of the right ventricle. According to Weiss, currently available pumps have electrical cables running through the skin, which isn’t ideal for long-term use and poses a risk of infection. The team envisions a completely wireless system, based on a system designed for pulsatile pumps that has been successfully tested in patients.
Weiss and other team members have completed the first phase of the project, which included the engineering and design of the small pump. Since blood is a unique liquid with special properties, they performed a series of tests to see if the device could move blood efficiently and also how the blood would interact with the surface of the pump, to prevent clotting or d other health problems. While initial implants in animal studies have shown good results in terms of safety and effectiveness, Weiss said there is still work to be done.