Artificial hearts may sound like science fiction, but they’ve actually been in clinical use to help end-stage heart failure patients for more than 35 years — here’s what you should know.
As the number of patients suffering from heart disease has increased over the years, so too has the need for heart transplants. Unfortunately, the global supply of donor hearts remains limited, and not everyone who needs a heart transplant will receive a matching donor heart in time.
Recognizing the need for an effective and immediately available alternative to a donor heart, surgeons, medical researchers and inventors began developing early versions of total artificial hearts during the first half of the 20th century. Here’s what you should know about artificial hearts and their use today.
1. There have been 13 artificial heart designs used in patients, but only one has received commercial approval from the FDA.
Since the first patient implant in 1969, medical teams across the globe have developed 13 different artificial heart designs that have been used in patients. Many of these designs were initially intended to be permanent solutions. However, the majority have been used as temporary measures to keep a patient alive until a matching donor heart becomes available, known as a bridge to transplant.
Among those 13 artificial heart designs, the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) is the only one to receive commercial approval in the U.S. (FDA), Canada (Health Canada) and Europe (CE mark). In clinical use for more than 35 years, the SynCardia TAH has been implanted more than 1,800 times, accounting for more than 600 patient-years of support.
2. The TAH is pulsatile and has two ventricles and four valves — just like the human heart.
Just like a heart transplant, the SynCardia TAH replaces both lower chambers of the heart (the left and right ventricles) and the four heart valves to restore blood flow to the body and eliminate the symptoms and source of heart failure.
Unlike a donor heart, the TAH is readily available when needed (no wait list), not restricted by blood type or antibody level (no matching required) and is biocompatible with the body
(no anti-rejection medications needed).
The SynCardia TAH is pumped and monitored by an external machine called a driver, which produces pulses of air and vacuum that help pump blood in and out of the ventricles.
3. The TAH is made of a highly durable, biocompatible material.
The SynCardia TAH is made of a special plastic called segmented polyurethane solution (SPUS). Made in SynCardia’s laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, SPUS has a high degree of fatigue resistance, strength and biocompatibility, which makes it an ideal material for manufacturing multiple components of the TAH.
Learn more about SPUS here.
4. The TAH has supported patients as young as 9 years old and as old as 80.
The TAH is manufactured in two different sizes — 70cc and 50cc — to fit more patients. The 70cc TAH fits a majority of men and some women, and it can generate blood flow of up to 9.5 liters per minute, depending on the patient’s needs. The smaller 50cc TAH is designed to fit a majority of women and some adolescents, and it can generate blood flow of up to 7.5 liters per minute, depending on the patient’s needs. In comparison, the average human heart at rest pumps an average of 5 liters of blood per minute.
5. Patients have lived on the TAH for more than 4.5 years.
The average time on support for a SynCardia TAH patient is approximately 130 days, but the TAH has supported patients for much longer periods of time. In fact, several patients have been supported for more than 4.5 years.
6. Stable TAH patients are able to leave the hospital and enjoy active lives at home while they wait for a donor heart.
Thanks to the Freedom® Portable Driver, stable TAH patients who meet discharge criteria are able to leave the hospital and enjoy active lives at home with their loved ones while they wait for a matching donor heart to become available.
Many of these patients are able to resume normal, everyday activities and hobbies — and even start new ones. Below are some real examples of what TAH patients have been able to accomplish while being supported by the Freedom Driver:
- Chris, 51, hiked a total of 607 miles before receiving his heart transplant
- Randy, 39, completed the 4.2-mile Pat’s Run event
- Stan, 23, played pickup basketball with friends while wearing the Freedom Driver in the Backpack
- Tom, 49, was able to go back to work running his marina
- Bob, 50, remodeled his house and went trapshooting with friends
7. The TAH is available at more than 140 hospitals in over 20 countries.
Currently, there are more than 140 SynCardia Certified Centers in more than 20 countries across the globe. Each center has undergone a comprehensive training program to become a SynCardia Certified Center.
If you’re interested in learning more about if the TAH is right for you or a loved one, contact the Certified Center nearest you and request an appointment with the heart failure/transplant program.