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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Lighter hearts

For the first time in U.S. history, patients with completely artificial hearts can be discharged from the hospital while waiting for a permanent heart, thanks to the efforts of UA alumni and the University Medical Center.

Before, patients were landlocked by a 413-pound driver named “”Big Blue.”” Now, headed by UMC, a 13.5-pound portable Freedom driver received Food and Drug Administration approval for study through SynCardia, Inc. on Friday.

The driver provides power to the artificial heart, allowing patients who need a new heart but might not make it through the average 144-day waiting period.

This heart cannot be rejected by the body, unlike other transplants, and, if given, a portable driver can “”let patients have the heart to walk a marathon,”” according to Rodger Ford, CEO of SynCardia, Inc.

“”This is the breakthrough that allows people to live a normal life with an artificial heart,”” Ford said of the technology, which took two years and $30 million to develop.

Ford, an Eller College of Management alumnus, is one of many UA alumni and staff who worked with SynCardia, Inc. to develop this technology.

“”There’s truly a history that this has grown out of the University of Arizona,”” said Richard Smith, the co-founder and chief technical officer for SynCardia, Inc. “”It’s truly a UMC, U of A product.””

Artificial hearts have had a long history at the UA, with the first transplant completed in 1985 by Dr. Jack Copeland at UMC. UA faculty continue to be leaders in artificial heart development.

Ford said members of the 40-person SynCardia staff were crying as the news came in through an e-mail last Friday.

“”We’re a small company with a lot of heart,”” Ford said. “”(The study) is a big thing. It means a lot of jobs, a lot of growth for the company.””

The FDA study is focusing on the ease of using the driver in day-to-day activity, since the driver has already been tested and proven to work.

“”Instead of them waiting three months to get a transplant, if we can get them out of the hospital for two weeks, the rest of those days are not expensive,”” Smith said. “”A patient doesn’t want to stay in the hospital, especially if they feel well … because they are as well as you and I.””

Although the total costs of the transplant, surgery and driver usually total more than $100,000, most is covered by insurance, said Don Isaacs, vice president of communications at SynCardia, Inc.

The company is confident that the FDA study will go smoothly after successful test runs of the driver in Germany since 2004, and the implant of their 850th artificial heart in Moscow on March 23, Isaacs said.

SynCardia, Inc. and UMC are hopeful that with successful completion of the study, this driver can be mass marketed around the country, providing a lower cost and a more comfortable option for patients.

“”And none of this would have been possible without Dr. Jack Copeland and the University Medical Center,”” Isaacs said.

Smith, who has worked with the company for several years, echoed Isaacs’ sentiment.

“”It should help patients who either would have died or gotten suboptimal therapy,”” Smith said. “”This levels the playing field and provides a much safer avenue for them.””

Ford, who invested money in the company before becoming CEO, feels that his education at the UA helped him and many others at SynCardia, Inc. make this important breakthrough.

“”There are many, many people who die with a broken heart,”” Ford said. “”They don’t have to die anymore.””

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