Artificial Hearts

Cardiovascular disease is the only non-communicable disease that is on the rise globally. China has 290 million cardiovascular patients, causing it to rank first as a cause of death. Chronic heart failure is often irreversible and difficult to control with drugs or other means; meanwhile, acute heart failure is severe and must be treated immediately. The artificial heart maintains blood circulation and body function when the heart is temporarily unable to work, so that it can recover after a period of rest or the patient can transition to other treatment methods under stable conditions, after which it is removed.

First-generation artificial hearts used pulsating pumps simulating the natural heart contraction. They circulated blood in a filling and emptying process, using the same principle as the heart.

In 1966, Dr. Debakey performed the first successful artificial heart VAD transplant operation. The device ran for 64 hours. The patient survived whilst waiting for a suitable heart donor. The success of this operation represented a milestone for artificial heart development.

Representative first-generation ventricular assist devices included Syncardia and Novacor. Over 7,000 heart failure patients were treated with these devices, saving their lives. However, products of this generation were structurally complex, large, difficult to operate, and prone to mechanical failure and thrombosis, causing unsatisfactory survival rates and prompting the birth of the second generation.

The second-generation artificial heart challenged the traditional idea that blood circulation could only be achieved through heartbeats. They used centrifugal or axial flow pumps to drive blood to flow through the body.

Artificial hearts from this generation were small and durable, significantly improving patients’ quality of life. They are currently used widely in clinical practice and have become the first choice for treatment prior to transplantation.

When the bearing rotates at high speed, however, a high-shear area is formed between the vane and the wall of the pump body. Red blood cells rupture under the action of shear force, producing hemolysis due to mechanical damage, leading to thrombus, and also increasing mortality from stroke and other complications.

Third-generation artificial hearts use hydraulic suspension (including magnetic-fluid double suspension) or a complete magnetic suspension system to prevent thrombosis.

Third-generation ventricular assist devices generally use hydraulic levitation (including magnetic-liquid double levitation) or a complete magnetic levitation system. The latter uses magnetic levitation to make the bearing rotate in the blood without any mechanical contact so that the blood cells are not crushed, solving the problem of thrombosis. This generation of devices is smaller, with more stable performance, and has received extensive attention from the scientific and medical community.

Artificial hearts in China

In the past, ventricular assist technology was mostly dominated by Western countries. R&D began in China as early as the 1980s, but due to economic and technological limitation, a gap still existed compared with foreign countries. To date, China has still not commercialized any heart assist devices for clinical application.

Although commercial ventricular assist devices are available from abroad, they are extremely expensive and have not yet fully entered the domestic market. Therefore, development of a third-generation ventricular assist device with excellent performance, exceeding international standards, has become a top priority. magAssist is developing mid-to-short-term transitional external artificial hearts, working with different industries to promote China’s medical industry.

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