Artificial heart is both machine and cow

Thousands of people on waiting lists for heart transplants might be able to receive a part-machine-part-cow implant if French scientists have anything to say about it.

Carmat, a Paris-based biotech company, announced this week that it has won approval from cardiac centers in Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Belgium and Poland to begin testing its newest technology in humans.

Carmat has developed a unique ‘bioprosthetic heart' that's made with both mechanical and biological components. The ‘heart‘ has two chambers separated by the bovine membrane, on one side, and motorized pumps use hydraulic fluid to pump blood on the other side of the membrane, according to The Huffington Post. The heart also has sensors that detect pressure within the heart and can adjust the blood flow to suit different activities.

Current techniques to help alleviate the problems associated with heart failure (the most common of which include arrhythmia, blood clots and kidney failure) are mostly palliative in nature: treating an ailment with medications, muscle stimulation, annuloplasty and pacemakers, but never truly solving the problem. If those treatments fail, the patient will need a heart transplant. But, there are only about 4,000 hearts available for donation per year, which isn't sufficient to meet the requirements of the 100,000 some-odd plus people who need one.

Only one synthetic heart has been approved for use in North America and Europe - SynCardia - and it isn't intended to be used as a permanent replacement heart, MIT Technology Review reports. Instead, it's used as a bridge, keeping patients with irreversible end stage biventricular failure alive while they wait for a donor transplant. Even so, an astonishing 79% of people with SynCardia transplants live to see that donation, the highest rate of success for a bridge transplant in the world.

SynCardia has its drawbacks. It uses tubes connected to the heart through the skin, while Carmat's heart is implanted entirely within the body, reducing the chances of infection. Additionally, Carmat's use of bovine membranes and valves hopes to reduce the chances of coagulation and therefore the dependency on anti-coagulant drugs typically taken by those with heart transplants.

The US alone has around six million people who suffer from heart failure and spends an estimated $39 billion dollars on it annually. The cost of the device coupled with the number of people who need it adds up to a potential market of 16 billion euros (~$20 billion USD).

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