Heart failure is among the biggest killers worldwide, with over 10 million people in the United States and Europe affected every year. However, some MedTech companies have found a way to give cardiac patients a fighting chance against this fatal condition.
Artificial heart context
In July 2021, French medical device company Carmat announced that it had successfully completed its first artificial heart implant in Italy. This development signals a new frontier for cardiovascular technology, a market that is already poised to be worth more than $40 billion by 2030, according to research firm IDTechEx. Carmat’s artificial heart has two ventricles, with a membrane made of tissue from a cow’s heart that separates the hydraulic fluid and blood. A motorized pump circulates the hydraulic fluid, which then moves the membrane to distribute blood.
While American company SynCardia’s artificial heart was an early mover in the market, the primary difference between Carmat and SynCardia’s artificial hearts is that Carmat’s heart can self-regulate. Unlike SynCardia’s heart, which has a fixed, programmed heart rate, Carmat’s has embedded microprocessors and sensors that can automatically respond to patient activity. A patient’s heart rate will increase when the patient moves and stabilize when the patient is at rest.
The initial goal of medical device companies developing artificial hearts was to keep patients alive while awaiting a suitable heart donor (an often laborious process). However, these firms’ ultimate objective is to create permanent artificial hearts that can withstand the wear and tear of mechanical devices.
An Australian startup called BiVACOR developed a mechanical heart that uses a single spinning disc to pump blood into the lungs and the body. Since the pump levitates between magnets, there is nearly no mechanical wear, making the device highly resilient, extending its operating life exponentially. Like Carmat’s model, BiVACOR’s artificial heart can self-regulate based on activity. However, unlike Carmat’s model, which is currently (2021) too big to fit in women’s bodies, BiVACOR’s version is flexible enough to fit into a child. In July 2021, BiVACOR started preparing for human trials where the device would be implanted and observed for three months.
Implications of next generation artificial hearts becoming available
Wider implications of next-generation artificial hearts becoming increasingly available to patients may include:
- A reduced demand for donated hearts as more patients can live comfortably with artificial ones. Meanwhile, for those patients that prepare organic hearts, their wait times and survival rates may increase dramatically.
- Mortality rates attributed to cardiovascular diseases beginning to decline alongside the gradual adoption of artificial hearts.
- Increased production of interconnected cardiovascular devices that can replace entire hearts and support and replace malfunctioning parts, such as ventricles.
- Future models of artificial hearts being connected to the Internet of Things for wireless charging, data sharing, and syncing with wearable devices.
- Increased funding to create artificial hearts for pets and zoo animals.
- Increased funding for research programs for other artificial organ types, particularly the kidney and the pancreas.
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- Would you be willing to have an artificial heart implant if needed?
- How do you think governments would regulate the production or availability of artificial hearts?