Space technology company builds a functioning artificial heart

An artificial heart that took 15 years to develop has been approved for human trials. The device, which was fashioned from biological tissue and parts of miniature satellite equipment, combines the latest advances in medicine, biology, electronics, and materials science.

It's built by the Paris-based company Carmat and it's the brainchild of French cardiac surgeon Alain Carpentier. The state-of-the-art device is the result of a collaboration with aerospace giant Astrium, the space subsidiary of EADS, along with support from the French government.

In order for it to qualify for human trials, the developers had to create a heart that could withstand the demanding conditions of the body's circulatory system. It has to pump 35 million times per year for at least five years — and without fail. This is why Carpentier's team turned to space technology, which is known for its resilience and compact size.

"Space and the inside of your body have a lot in common," said Astrium's Matthieu Dollon in an ESA statement. "They both present harsh and inaccessible environments."

Indeed, Telecom satellites have similar demands placed upon them; they have to last for at least 15 years and function 36,000 km above Earth.

"Failure in space is not an option," he added. "Nor is onsite maintenance. If a part breaks down, we cannot simply go and fix it. It's the same inside the body."

Space technology company builds a functioning artificial heart

In addition to space-tech, the artificial heart combines synthetic and biological materials as well as sensors and software to detect a patient's level of exertion and adjust output accordingly. MIT's Technology Review explains more:

In Carmat's design, two chambers are each divided by a membrane that holds hydraulic fluid on one side. A motorized pump moves hydraulic fluid in and out of the chambers, and that fluid causes the membrane to move; blood flows through the other side of each membrane. The blood-facing side of the membrane is made of tissue obtained from a sac that surrounds a cow's heart, to make the device more biocompatible. "The idea was to develop an artificial heart in which the moving parts that are in contact with blood are made of tissue that is [better suited] for the biological environment," says Piet Jansen, chief medical officer of Carmat.

That could make patients less reliant on anti-coagulation medications. The Carmat device also uses valves made from cow heart tissue and has sensors to detect increased pressure within the device. That information is sent to an internal control system that can adjust the flow rate in response to increased demand, such as when a patient is exercising.

The French company hopes to finish human trials by the end of 2014 and obtain regulatory approval for an EU launch in the following year. Human trials were approved back in September and will be tested on four patients in three French hospitals.

Images: Carmat.