Heart Pump Machine: The idea came on the dining table and became an affordable heart pump, heart patients will get relief

Ananya Shroff
7 Min Read

New Delhi: About ten years ago, Chennai-based heart and lung transplant surgeon KR Balakrishnan and Pete Ayre, professor of bioengineering at the University of New South Wales, Australia, met for dinner at a Chennai hotel. When the conversation turned to artificial heart pumps, they borrowed a pencil from the waiter and drew some designs on paper napkins. The amazing thing happened when the designs made on the dinner table reached the lab in just a few years and are now ready. After 5 years of hard work, scientists have created two types of artificial heart pumps – one for the left side and the other for the right side (smaller one). Currently, they are being tested on sheep in Australia. If everything goes well, by December 2024, its testing will also start on humans in India and Australia.

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“We never thought we would make this much progress”

Balakrishnan, head of the heart and lung transplant department at MGM Healthcare, says, “We never thought we would make so much progress.” He said, “Our discussions were just going on like this. When I left the hotel, I did not think anything would come out of it. I was surprised when Pete called me a week later and things started moving forward.” Actually, both of them have formed a company named Cardiobionic together. Both of them had a very clear plan. Both of them want to make an artificial heart pump that can be a permanent and affordable treatment for the problem of heart failure. Actually, the cost of the artificial heart pump currently available in the market is US $ 100,000, or more than Rs 80 lakh. This team wanted to make a pump that is available at four times less cost. Although doctors can pump even outside the chest, it is not suitable for small children and weak people.

Money became a hurdle in the project

Nowadays, artificial heart pumps support only one part of the heart, the left ventricle. Sometimes these pumps are implanted in patients, but later the right part of the heart becomes weak, due to which they may have to stay in the ICU for life. But making an artificial heart pump is not an easy task. Balakrishnan says, 'When the studies being done in the lab and the designs being made started giving hope of success, the first obstacle came in front of the team. The team needed money.' Balakrishnan says, 'I talked to more than 50 businessmen from all over the world. Two Indian investors agreed to invest money. Only then did this project gain momentum.'

Why is this heart pump special?

  • After 5 years of hard work, scientists have created a special pump that supports both parts of the heart. To run this pump, only a small machine and a small device are needed. The best thing is that its price is four times less than the devices currently available in the market. This pump is made of a strong metal called titanium and a special device called 'Non-Contact Impella' is fitted inside it.
  • This device draws blood from the lower part of the heart (ventricle) and delivers it to the main artery that supplies oxygen to the body. Pete Ayre said, 'It floats in the blood and keeps moving continuously. This means that it is not just a short-term treatment, but it can also reduce the need for a heart transplant.' Many heart failure patients across the country die in the hope of treatment because it is difficult for them to get a heart.
  • Ayer adds, 'Organ transplantation is a complex process. With growing awareness, organs are now being obtained from patients who die of brain death, but not every heart can be used as they have to be transplanted very quickly, within about four hours. Heart transplantation facilities are not available in most parts of the world. This new pump can prevent many such deaths.'

Pump to support the right side of the heart

The team has developed a special pump that supports only the right side of the heart. This pump made for adults can also be used to support the left ventricle in children. Balakrishnan said, 'No special pump has been made for children yet.' However, more research is needed to know why some hearts stop working even after installing an artificial pump.

Patients can be monitored via the internet

Meanwhile, the team is trying to convert the pump into a device that can be monitored remotely. This means that patients can be monitored from anywhere through the internet. Apart from this, efforts are also being made to make the entire system wireless. Balakrishnan said, 'Right now, a wire connects the pump to a console outside the body. This can increase the risk of infection. Doctors are advising the team to make the pump as efficient as the human heart.

Trials are ongoing on sheep in Australia

“The heart can increase its capacity by up to 50% during pregnancy, exercise or an emergency. We wanted to create a pressure sensor that would help the pump do this,” says Pete Ayre, a professor of bioengineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Although trials on sheep in Australia are showing positive results, the team is trying to get permission to use this product in India, the US and Europe.

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