The trials were launched on Sept. 13 by clinicians at the TEDA International Cardiovascular Hospital in north Chinas Tianjin Municipality. After being implanted into a 63-year-old male patient to replace his iled heart, the device has functioned as a pump to deliver blood to the whole body, significantly alleviating the symptoms of heart ilure, said Liu Xiaocheng, lead researcher of the clinic program and head of the hospital.
There are at least 16 million people with iling hearts in China. For patients who are in advanced stages of heart ilure, transplants are the only solution. However, transplants are limited by a lack of donors and many die while waiting.
Called HeartCon, the artificial heart weighs only 180 grams and is smaller than the size of a fist. It is an outcome of long-term cooperation between the hospital and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the countrys leading rocket maker.
Xu Jian, chief engineer of the project, said the artificial heart works like a rockets servomechanism, which is driven by a hydraulic pump.
The artificial heart can be replaced if there is a malfunction.
In March 2022, two critically ill patients who had HeartCons implanted to extend their lives, survived.
Animal experiments started in 2013. A sheep with the artificial heart survived 120 days. Four years later, scientists implanted the HeartCons into six sheep and set a new record as one of them survived 180 days.
Compared to an imported artificial heart, which costs as much as 200,000 U.S. dollars, the HeartCon will come for much less, bringing benefits to more patients in China, Liu said.
A servomechanism uses feedback to control an operation.
Scientists began developing the artificial heart in 2009. They used magnetic and fluid levitation, which are used in rocket servo technology, to produce an implantable third-generation ventricular assistive device, a mechanical pump to support heart functions while causing less damage to patients blood than previous types.
Since 2013, the implanted ventricular assistive devices worldwide have surpassed heart transplants in number and survival rate, said Liu. The longest survival time of patients with an artificial heart is more than 15 years.
Since the artificial heart uses a blood pump and needs electrical energy to generate power, it works on external batteries. Implanting an artificial heart requires a wire, thinner than a chopstick, to pass through the patients belly to connect the controller and external batteries.
A new artificial heart design powered by Chinese rocket technology is being tried on patients with weak hearts.
ALTERNATIVE TO HEART TRANSPLANT
For child patients, Lius team is developing a lighter HeartCon, which will weigh 80 grams.
Furthermore, patients with an artificial heart only need anticoagulants after surgery. They dont require various anti-rejection drugs that heart transplant recipients have to take, said Liu, adding that with advancing technology, the artificial heart can completely replace transplants.
The servomechanism on a rocket has higher requirements of speed and power, while the artificial heart demands more focus on safety and comfort as it is small and needs to be implanted, Xu said.