Artificial Heart Using Space Tech Approved For Human Trials In France
December 5, 2013

Artificial Heart Using Space Tech Approved For Human Trials In France

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

France has approved an artificial heart containing miniaturized space technology for human trials.

French company Carmat produced their first completely artificial heart earlier this year with the help of aerospace giant Astrium. Carmat applied Astrium’s expertise in building spacecraft to guarantee the necessary precision and durability for an artificial human organ like a heart.

The artificial heart is fashioned partly from biological tissue and in part from miniature satellite equipment. The device combines the latest advances in medicine, biology, electronics and materials to imitate a real heart.

Researchers had to build a device that was able to withstand the tough conditions of the body’s circulatory system and pump 35 million times per year for at least five years without fail. They found reliability from design methodologies, testing strategies and know-how for the electronics on satellites.

“Space and the inside of your body have a lot in common,” stated Matthieu Dollon, Head of Business Development in Astrium’s French Elancourt Equipment team. “They both present harsh and inaccessible environments.”

While the heart may be closer in reach than a satellite, it is just as inaccessible, meaning both failure and onsite maintenance are not options.

“If a part breaks down, we cannot simply go and fix it It’s [sic] the same inside the body,” Dollon said.

Space engineers tolerate no interruptions or bugs in their electronics. If a satellite stops working during the final play of the Superbowl, it is disappointing for all those watching. However, if a heart stops beating for five-seconds, then it is fatal.

“We try hard to make sure that every single part will function as planned for the duration of the device,” said team member Dung Vo-Quoc, who designed some of the vital electronics for the heart.

The artificial heart contains 900 tiny components that must function perfectly. The team used advanced modeling and digital simulation technologies and developed latest-generation test benches to perform a thorough analysis on the heart.

“I hadn’t realized quite how demanding the testing is for spacecraft,” Carmat’s Technical Director, Marc Grimmé, said in a statement. “I knew the military had high standards, but in space the bar is even higher.”

The French Health Authority has determined that the prosthetic is reliable enough to authorize the first human implants in three approved hospitals in Paris. Doctors can now start selecting the first four patients to trial it inside their bodies.

“The countdown has started to the next phase,” Grimmé said. “It’s a bit like arriving at base camp on Mount Everest and getting the authorization to head out to the next level. It’s very exciting and very emotional.”

The success of the artificial heart will be assessed by the one-month survival rate or the patient’s bridging to transplantation if he or she is eligible. Carmat said it does not anticipate any major problems recruiting patients for this initial study.

The Carmat prosthetic uses animal pericardium, the membrane surrounding the heart, to help overcome previous hurdles with synthetic materials triggering blood clots. The device has two chambers separated by a membrane with the biological tissue on the side in contact with the patient’s blood and polyurethane on the other. The miniaturized pumping system of motors and hydraulic fluids changes the membrane’s shape and also uses biological material for the artificial valves.

“The fusion of space technology with medical and biological sciences to create a potentially lifesaving organ is not only a feat of human engineering,” Tech2Market’s Claude-Emmanuel Serre said. “It’s also a great example of how advanced space technology and expertise can benefit our lives here on Earth in a concrete way.”