The artificial heart is not something completely new. There are a number of options available, but there is only one that is approved for human use and even that is only intended to keep the patients going until they can get a heart transplant. However, a device being developed by the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) is hoped to be a permanent fix.
The OHSU artificial heart was invented by the Dr. Richard Wampler, who is now retired, with the spinoff company OregonHeart. The device has been in the works since 2014. The company stopped working on the device so the University took over its development last year.
The chance of mechanical failure increases with the increased number of moving parts and the device has been kept simple with just one moving part so no valves can get stuck. The moving part is a titanium alloy-coated hollow rod that shuttles back and forth inside a titanium tube.
This is suspended within the tube on hydrodynamic bearings. This is used to serve the same purpose as that of the lower chambers of the heart. The first step is to move blood to the lungs and then through the rest of the body. One thing that the OHSU artificial heart has is that it creates a blood flow that mimics a natural human pulse as opposed to others that create a continuous flow. This minimizes the blood damage and clotting and reduces the risk of a stroke.
The device gets its power from a combined control unit/rechargeable battery pack. This can be carried in the pocket or can be worn on the belt. There are talks about further developments that would allow the battery to be implanted under the skin and recharged through external sources.
The OHSU artificial heart has been tested successfully in cows and sheep for short periods. The scientists are now developing a smaller model that is hoped to be implanted for three months. If this proves successful, then they will look forward to human trials. We will have to wait for the results to know if a permanent heart solution is going to become a reality or not.