Artificial heart pumps blood without a pulse

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

heart pump
The pulseless mechanical heart sends blood through the body with propeller-like screws.

It looks like vampires won’t be the only ones walking around without a heartbeat. An artificial (unnatural) heart developed by the Texas Heart Institute will replace unhealthy ones with a pulseless machine version!

Our natural hearts are truly remarkable organs, pumping 6 tablespoons of blood through our body with every beat, 60-100 times a minute. In fact, our heart beats 35 million times a year, circulating (moving continuously) life-giving liquid through our veins and arteries (mega “veins”). Blood carries oxygen and nutrition through this circulatory system, while also removing waste to keep us alive and healthy.

When this important organ fails or becomes damaged, there’s a high demand for working hearts from recently dead people, to surgically transplant (replace) the broken one.

Well, what about when there’s no organ donations available? That’s where artificial machine hearts come into the picture. Normally, these short-term replacements emulate (copy) the beating of a natural human heart. However, the one created by Texas Heart Institute would circulate blood at a steady pace, meaning there’d be no heartbeat!

Dr. Billy Cohen, a heart surgeon who works at the Texas Heart Institute, compares the thought process to how the Wright Brothers came up with the idea for the modern airplane – coming up with unnatural propellers, rather than bird-like wings. He explains, “It wasn’t until they decided, ‘We can’t do this the way Mother Nature did,’ and came up with the rapidly spinning propellers that the Wright Brothers were able to fly.”

artificial heart Daniel Timms
Daniel Timms, who worked with the Texas Heart Institute for the past 2 years, holds the heart device he spent a decade creating.

When inventor Daniel Timms showed up with his pulseless machine, Cohen was doubtful. “A lot of people come to our door with devices and prototypes (early models), and they range from moderately interesting to laughably stupid… My expectations were very low. He pulls this thing out and starts telling me about it, and I quickly realized this is the most sophisticated and elegant device I’ve ever seen.”

Inside the fist-sized, can-like exterior of the machine, a small and large blade are positioned on opposite sides of a rotor (the rotating part of a device). The small blade pushes blood through the right chamber of a heart, to the lungs, while the larger one sends blood through the left chamber to the rest of the organs.

The artificial heart achieves its medical marvel by being suspended inside a powerful magnetic field that makes the blades rotate about 2,000 times a minute! It can also adapt to whether someone’s sitting, standing, coughing, or exercising, increasing or slowing down the rate of blood circulation. It almost sounds like the magnetic heart machine invented by Tony Stark in Iron Man!

Images courtesy of The Texas Heart Institute.