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U of M Expert Perspectives: Assessing the potential of the world’s first bioprosthetic heart

Photo via Carmat

Twelve days after receiving the world’s first bioprosthetic heart from French company Carmat, a 75 year old Frenchman is in “very satisfactory condition” according to a statement from the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris.

In addition, the surgeons who implanted the device released a statement to the media which said, “the artificial heart is functioning normally, automatically catering to the body’s needs without any manual adjustment.”

Should the patient continue to make progress, the case – which captured international headlines prior to Christmas – may offer hope to thousands of heart failure patients nationwide who cannot receive a donor heart due to their age or lack of organ availability.

Artificial hearts have been in use since the 1980’s, however Carmat’s device is the first self-regulating device available to patients. Other artificial hearts beat at one rate, while the Carmat device can speed up or slow down based on physiological need calculated by an onboard microprocessor.

According to Peter Eckman, M.D., a cardiologist and heart failure expert with University of Minnesota Physicians Heart at Fairview, the device has a lot of potential, some of which centers around how the device is made. The Carmat artificial heart relies on synthetic materia but uses tissue from a cow for components that touch human tissue or blood.

“One of the key potential advantages here is lack of metal valves, which should improve biocompatibility and decrease risk of bleeding and clotting,” said Eckman.

Eckman believes the device could be a big step forward. “Heart failure is such a large problem and we are unlikely to solve the organ shortage anytime soon, and that includes incorporating stem cells or organ and tissue engineering. I think that mechanical solutions like this will play a much more prominent role over the next 10-15 years.”

Currently, three more patients in France are scheduled to receive the device as part of a clinical trial that will gauge how the device improves survival for patients suffering terminal heart failure. Eckman suspects it will be a year or two before clinical trials could potentially be available in the U.S., and nearly five years (at least) before the Carmat device will be commercially available nationwide.

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