An injury to the heart often requires a transplant of the entire organ, but a new invention from scientists at EPFL (Switzerland) could relieve the pressure of a damaged heart so that it could heal itself.
When a heart is wounded, it will patch itself up with scar tissue to keep its structure intact in the short term. The problem is that the heart will no longer be able to beat as well as it used to, thus placing intensive strain that can cause heart failure.
In search of a way to assist an injured heart, the scientists developed an artificial aorta that can help pump blood, taking some of the pressure off the heart.
The aorta is the main artery that transports blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. This is a very important job, and it does this through its elastic tissue, which swells up as blood is pumped into it from the heart and contracts to squeeze the blood where it needs to go. Now, with an artificial aorta, scientists can recreate that process and take the strain off the heart.
“The advantage of our system is that it reduces the pressure on a patient’s heart,” says Yoan Civet, an author of the study. “The idea isn’t to replace the heart, but to assist it.”
The device is made up of a silicon tube complete with a set of electrodes, and it’s designed to be implanted right at the beginning of the aorta, just behind the aortic valve. When an electric voltage is applied, the tube swells up wider than a natural aorta would, so it can hold more blood. Then the voltage can be switched off, making the artificial aorta stiffen again to pump the blood out.
The team tested the device in a lab model of the human circulatory system, made using pumps and chambers that simulate realistic human blood flow and pressure. Thus far, the device has been able to reduce the cardiac energy required by the heart by 5.5 percent. While that may not sound like much, it does show that the concept works. In the future, that may mean that doctors will be able to heal the hearts of patients without a heart transplant.