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Maglev Heart Could Keep Cardiac Patients Alive

Bivacor is working toward human trials of their artificial heart after the implant successfully kept a calf alive for 90-days, helping it stay healthy, energetic, and gain weight at a normal rate. It even jogged on a treadmill for 30-minute stretches. Artificial hearts have been discussed among cardiac surgeons and biomedical engineers for more than 50 years, but what makes Bivacor’s artificial heart so unique is its use of a levitating disk, suspended in a magnetic field, that spins 2,000 times per minute to keep blood flowing. IEEE Spectrum reports: We had to overcome many technical challenges to make an artificial heart that’s small, biocompatible, energy efficient, and durable. Consider that the human heart beats about 112,000 times a day, which adds up to 42 million times a year, and you’ll understand the magnitude of the challenge. We’ve tested the Bivacor heart in 15 cows so far. While the need for animal testing is unfortunate, it’s the only way to prove the device’s safety and move forward to clinical trials in humans. These Corriente calves, which are relatively small, are the right size to serve as analogues for adult patients. We’ve also implanted the Bivacor heart in several sheep, which are more representative of patients with smaller bodies, including children. Our tests have shown that the heart holds up well: With its one moving part levitating in a magnetic field, there’s no worry that friction and mechanical wear will cause the machine to give out. Our tests have also shown that the device can adapt to the user’s cardiovascular requirements.

The Bivacor heart would fit in the palm of your hand — it’s about 650 grams, slightly heavier than an adult human heart. Its shell is made of titanium, a noncorroding material that almost never triggers an immune response. Patients will wear a 4-kg external controller pack that contains two rechargeable batteries (providing about 5 hours of operation each), although they can also plug in directly to a power outlet. Throughout our design process, we used 3D printers to make both titanium and plastic parts for our prototypes, allowing us to rapidly experiment with different geometries. For testing, we built a hardware simulation of the human circulatory system in our engineering office in Los Angeles; this mock-up allows us to validate a device’s function thoroughly and repeatedly in a controlled environment, and reduces the need for animal testing.

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