Wireless Artificial Heart Unveiled

Implanted heart pumps going wireless

(RxWiki News) There was a time when people would have scoffed at the idea of developing an artificial heart capable of functioning for years. Now there is a wireless heart pump upgrade.

An implantable wireless heart pump -- the first such device that is cordless -- was recently unveiled at the American Society for Artificial Organs annual meeting in Washington, D.C. It received the Willem Kolff/Donald B. Olsen Award for most promising research in the development of artificial hearts.

"Ask your cardiologist about the latest heart pumps."

Joshua Smith, a University of Washington associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, and teams from the University of Washington and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are currently testing a wireless power system for ventricular assist devices.

The implanted mechanical cardiac pumps were originally developed for those awaiting a heart transplant. However, the technology has improved so much that many patients have used the implanted devices for years.

Though successful, the current pumps can be problematic because the power cord that sticks out from a patient's stomach is prone to infection. Infections are the leading cause of rehospitalization in these patients, and 40 percent with mechanical implants suffer from an infection. In some cases it can be fatal.

Smith said the wireless system works when a transmitting coil sends out electromagnetic waves at a certain frequency. Another cell receives and absorbs that energy, which is used to charge a battery. Cell phone charging pads operate in a similar manner except that the phone has to touch the charger in that scenario, he noted.

The device would have a medium range in proportion to coil size. Smith said a one-foot transmitter coil could provide consistent power from a foot away, or if the coil was four inches, power could be transmitted across four inches.

Though limited in distance, the wireless device still could help cut infection rates for patients currently tethered to wired heart pumps.

Patients would have a small receiver coil implanted under the skin. It would connect to a battery with a 2-hour charge, meaning that patients could be completely free of the device for short periods such as for bathing and swimming.

Researchers also expect additional power transmitters could be placed under a patient's bed or chair at home, dramatically improving quality of life.

Investigators hope to test the system by implanting the device in an animal. The research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Review Date: 
July 18, 2011