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    Heart Pump
    Thursday, 30 October 2003

    Building an artificial heart has been the Holy Grail for medicine for decades. But so far there hasn’t been much success in finding an alternative to the heart transplant. But could an Australian device be about to change that? It turns out that many people don’t need a complete artificial heart; they just need something to replace the heart’s main function: an artificial pump. And that’s what Australian company Ventracor has developed.

    Henry Nathan has just had one of these devices implanted in his chest. He went into hospital so sick, without the pump, he would not have left. But now, just a few weeks after the operation, he’s about to get back on the bowling green. We meet the pioneering Melbourne cardiologist who carried out the operation, Don Esmore. And with Peter Watterson, the engineer who invented one of the main components of the artificial heart pump – the unique magnetic motor. He says the principle for the idea come to him from the skiffle-boarding he used to do as a child. (full transcript...)

    Reporter: Paul Willis
    Producer: Louise Heywood
    Researcher: Leonie Hansell

    Story Contacts:
    Dr Peter Watterson Email
    Senior Research fellow
    Faculty of Engineering
    University of Technology, Sydney
    1 Broadway
    PO Box 123 Broadway
    NSW 2007
    Ph: 02-9514-2319
    Fx: 02-9514-2435
    Email: [email protected]

    Dr John Woodard Email
    Heart Pump Project Founder
    Ventracor Ltd
    126 Greville Street
    Chatswood NSW 2067
    [email protected]

    Related Sites:

    Ventracor, The Heart Company

    Full Program Transcript:
    Narration: Today is the big day. Henry Nathan is getting ready for a game of bowls he shouldn’t be playing. He only is because of the incredible new medical technology implanted in him by his doctors.

    Prof David Kaye: It is remarkable. There’s been a lot of buzz around the corridors. Here’s potentially a really great step forward in treating heart failure patients.

    Narration: That great step forward is a type of artificial heart, which Henry has just had put in him…It’s a new one…perhaps the first that will actually work over the long term…. unlike all the promised artificial hearts of the past.

    Prof Don Esmore: The artificial heart has really been a challenge beyond what most people believed. I think it was said you know 30 years ago – it would take 5 years to build a heart that’s going to be viable.

    Narration: The problem with artificial hearts is they fail within a few years of going in the body. But this one that Don Esmore put in Henry could be as good as a heart transplant. And Henry’s one of the first in the world to have it.

    Graham Phillips: You’ve got an artificial pump in there. You’re a cyborg man are you – a million dollar man?

    Henry Nathan, heart pump recipient: That’s right… bionic. Yes it’s got a little pump in there that would fit into my hand.

    Narration: It is just a pump Henry has in him not a complete mechanical heart – and that’s why this very simple artificial heart has a good chance of success…Henry’s real heart still performs all the other necessary functions.

    Prof David Kaye: So it’s not a replacement for the whole of the heart. We feel that probably not many patients would actually need total replacement of the heart.

    Narration: The pump was put in just below Henry’s ribs and connected into the heart’s normal blood flow.

    Prof David Kaye: The pump sits just below the diaphragm which is this line here. We can see the silhouette of Henry’s heart very nicely outlined. So just from a plumbing point of view the pump takes blood from what we call the apex of the left ventricle sitting just here and through the pump and then back out through a long tube, which runs up to the aorta up the top here.

    Narration: Too old for a heart transplant, giving this new heart-pump a go was Henry’s only option.

    Graham Phillips: What would your life have been like if you didn’t have this option do you think?

    Henry Nathan: In all probability I wouldn’t be here because I was at the end of anything that could be done.

    Narration: Henry now has to carry this pack with him wherever he goes, which is the computer controller and batteries for the pump… a small price to pay for life he says. The Australian inventors of Henry’s heart pump believe their device can do something no other artificial heart has….keep beating for years. They’ve already had pumps operating continuously… in the lab.

    Dr John Woodard: These four pumps here have been running for over a year. And we have a pump that’s been running for two years now and so that sort of demonstrates to us that these pumps are pretty reliable.

    Narration: And this lab simulation is a realistic test, says John.

    Graham Phillips: So does that sort of simulate blood? It looks pretty clear!

    Dr John Woodard: It’s a pretty poor simulation of blood from a colour point of view but it has the right salts in it and it’s at the right temperature. So it simulates the body environment, which is really quite aggressive. The body doesn’t really like having foreign materials in there. It tries to corrode them, the immune system tries to attack them and this is a good test of that environment of the body.

    Narration: The reason this artificial heart pump keeps going while others stop is its simplicity.

    Prof David Kaye: The terrific thing about this device is that there’s only one moving part… a central rotor which is suspended in a magnetic field

    Dr John Woodard: Inside this little chamber is the rotor – that’s what spins around.

    Graham Phillips: So that’s the key to this technology.

    Dr John Woodard: This is the part that really features in the patent. This is the clever thing nobody else does. This little thing spins around. It’s suspended in this little container here so it doesn’t touch anything. The blood comes in through the top and it gets ejected out through this port here.

    Narration: Nothing touches that rotor, not even a drive shaft... it’s held in place and spun just by magnetic forces. The rotor pumps blood continuously rather than in a pulsating way like a real heart, which creates an unusual side effect.

    Prof Don Esmore: Our two patients – men in their early 70s who for the whole of their life have had a pulse. Now if you go and see them now and feel their wrist, they have no pulse whatsoever because the flow in their arteries is continuous. Yet they still sit and talk and they get up walk around etc. etc. Their cerebral functions are good and the body seems to cope well with continuous flow.

    Narration: The man who invented the ingenious motor was Sydney engineer Peter Watterson. These are the first rough models he built…that rotor or impeller had to be precisely shaped so the forces of the blood flow itself would launch it into position.

    Dr Peter Watterson: Once it gets up to a certain speed the impeller just takes off and glides on the blood.

    Graham Phillips: So there’s no contact at all?

    Dr Peter Watterson: That’s right so it should never touch there after.

    Narration: The fact that there’s no contact between the only moving part and the sides of the pump means there can be no wear and tear.

    Dr John Woodard: Because there’s no wear this thing should run for hundreds of years so it’ll never wear out.

    Narration: So hopefully Henry can look forward to his artificial heart pump outlasting him. But how will it affect his bowling?

    Graham Phillips: How do you think you’ll go today?

    Henry Nathan: Oh, I don’t think I’ll go very well. I think I’ll be all out of whack. But I’ll get it. I’ll get it.

    Narration: This is Henry’s first time back at the bowling club for a year and a half. Henry just getting here has been an important goal for his doctors…but for Henry himself the real goal is laying that first bowl on the green. He predicted he wouldn’t bowl well today, but he was wrong. This first bowl finished just 30 centimetres from the jack. If the rest of the trials go as well as Henry’s bowling, that holy grail of an artificial heart pump will at last be here, claim the doctors.

    Prof David Kaye: We’re getting into another phase of I guess the brave new world We’ve now moved beyond drugs and we’re into a higher medical or engineering solution to heart disease.

    Narration: The pumps should be available within a couple of years, although we’ll have to wait a lot longer to know if they really can replace heart transplants.
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