First artificial heart transplant raises hope for future

'It can be effective for those who are awaiting donor heart'

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Tuesday 04 March 2014

New ground was broken in medical and technological research in December last year when a person was fitted with an artificial heart in Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, France. The 76-year-old man passed away on March 2, this year, but gave hope for future for patients requiring heart transplant, especially because obtaining a donor heart is extremely difficult.

"Artificial heart cannot truly replace human heart; its longevity will be much less. But in the absence of human hearts for transplant, this will be effective. It can also be used till a human heart is donated to a patient," said Ashok Seth, chairperson of Fortis Escorts Heart Institute in Delhi.

The artificial heart, the world's first, is a result of 25 years of research by French company Carmat. Weighing 900 gms, the steel grey coloured heart is thrice the size of a human heart. It is estimated that more than 80 per cent male patients will benefit from it because they have bigger chest. But not more than 20 per cent women patients will be able to use the new device. Research to make a more compact heart, compatible to women's needs is under way.

"We are delighted with this first implant, although it is premature to draw conclusions given that a single implant has been performed and that we are in the early post-operative phase,” Marcello Conviti, chief executive officer of Carmat, had said a few days after the operation.

The biomaterials used in the heart are chemically treated animal tissues, or pseudo-skin, which reduce the chance of rejection by human body, a major concern while transplanting heart from a deceased human donor. The Carmat heart runs on lethium battery and is embedded with electronic sensors to be able to closely mimic a real heart.

Heart transplant can prolong the life of patients who suffer end-stage heart failure. Despite aggressive campaigns for organ donation, heart donation has not picked up in India. "Organ donation from a brain dead person is very low in India. It is lower for the heart. It was a common belief that a person who donates organs is born without them in the next birth. Number of cadavers for donations of organs like kidney have increased. But the belief that 'a person is alive till the heart beats' makes family members averse to donating the heart," says B D Athani, medical superintendent of Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi.

But the cost of an artificial heart will be a roadblock in low- and middle-income countries. The Carmat heart costs US $200,000 or Rs 1.25 crore.


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