UAMC shares artificial heart interworking with biomedical engineering students

Isaac Cox

Students from the Undergraduate Biology Research Program were invited to experience firsthand the effects of artificial hearts on Thursday at UAMC’s Artificial Heart Program.

Richard G. Smith runs the artificial heart program as chief technical officer. Smith is also a co-founder of SynCardia, a local company that manufactures and supplies artificial hearts around the world.

The artificial heart Smith developed is the only approved machine of its kind in the world. It is made up of a right and left ventricle. Just like a normal heart, the left ventricle receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and sends it out to the rest of the body. The right ventricle receives the oxygen-depleted blood, where it is pumped back into the lungs allowing it to release carbon dioxide.

“When somebody is on this, I’ve completely eliminated the heart as a factor,” Smith said. “So the arrhythmias and all those other things, I completely control when I have this in place.”

The artificial heart is not meant to replace the existing heart of a patient. Its purpose is to provide patients with more time while they wait for a donor heart for transplantation. However, patients have lived up to four years with an artificial heart.

The artificial heart needs to be connected to a power console in order to maintain its function. Over the past year, SynCardia has been able to bring the size of the console down to about the size of a small briefcase. This allows the clinic to discharge the patients so that they don’t have to stay hooked up to a large power console in the hospital for months waiting on a donor heart. The console and the artificial heart work to maintain a heart rate that complies with the physical state of the patient.

Students working within the Undergraduate Biology Research Program examined the artificial heart and the power console that attaches to it.

“I’m doing research related to cardiovascular things, so it was interesting to see more about that and those biomaterial things he spoke about,” said Katie McCracken, a biosystems engineering senior. “I had to do a lot more reading up about that, so it was good to see the connection between the abstract kinds of things you read in the papers. You see pictures and things but it’s not the same as holding the device in your hand.”