Scientists at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne developed a completely new type of heart pump that does not make any contact with blood.
There are a number of pumps on the market, including total heart replacements and left-ventricular assist devices, but they all can damage red blood cells. Moreover, the turbulence produced by the pumps can lead to the formation of clots, requiring patients to take anticoagulant drugs.
The new cardiac support pump consists of a set of rings positioned around the aorta that contract and expand. When their movement is coordinated, the rings create pressure waves that help move blood through the aorta. (In a way, the idea is reminiscent of externally placed intra-aortic balloon pump treatment, although IABP is a diastolic augmentation device primarily for coronary flow.)
The technology relies on EPFL’s dielectric electro-active polymer, which rapidly changes shape in response to electrical current. The current is induced through a magnetic field that can be delivered using an external device, so no wires penetrate the skin, making infections less likely.
More development is needed before the technology will be tried on humans, but the researchers are already working with folks at University Hospital of Bern on clinical trials. Here’s a video featuring the scientists behind the pump explaining how it works and the benefits it’s expected to bring:
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
University Hospital of Bern