About a million heart disease patients died of heart failure worldwide every year while there were only about 3,000 cases of heart transplant being carried out. Heart transplant requires traumatic surgery and patients have to take large amounts of medications to avoid rejection. Many of the victims of heart failure could have survived if suitable organs (hearts) could be found in time for heart transplant.
New Zealand researchers from University of Auckland have developed the technology for a wireless heart pump that they believed could not only save thousands of lives but also offer an alternative to heart transplant.
According to the announcement made by the researchers on September 16, 2009, the technology uses magnetic fields to transfer power to heart pumps through a person’s skin instead of using wire cables that would often cause serious infections.
A coil, which can be put in a pocket, is placed outside the patient’s body, while another coil is placed inside the body near the collarbone to pick up the magnetic field for producing the power for the pump. A battery installed inside the body can also store enough power to operate the pump for about an hour.
Traditional wired heart pumps have been used to keep patients alive while they await heart surgery. However, the wire cable that is required to go through the patients’ stomachs and chests can just cause serious, and sometimes fatal, infections for about 40 percent of patients. Meanwhile, the wires can also break and restrict a patient's movement.
This is certainly not a new concept, but previous attempts in making wireless heart pumps produced too much heat. The new technology is able to eliminate the heating problem by delivering exactly the right amount of power.
The trials on patient are expected to begin within 2 years. If everything goes fine, these wireless heart pumps could be implanted in about 50,000 patients each year around the world within 10 years, according to the researchers.
It is hoped that the wireless heart pump could eventually replace heart transplants and become a viable alternative for heart failure patients.