November 17, 2009

New Heart Pump Improves Survival By Factor Of Four

A new type of heart pump significantly improves survival in people with severe heart failure, according to a study presented Tuesday at an American Heart Association conference and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The device, called the HeartMate II, is implanted next to a patient's own heart to help it pump blood, and could become the first such device to be widely used as a permanent treatment for the heart failure.

A study comparing the HeartMate II to a conventional pump in use today found that the new device increased by a factor of four the number of patients who survived at least two years.

The older pumps are typically used only for short periods of time, just long enough to keep a patient alive until a heart transplant can be done.

But at a price of $80,000, plus $45,000 for the surgery and hospital stay to implant it, the biggest obstacle in the widespread use of the HeartMate II is its price.

"It will allow older people who are not heart transplant patients to stay alive but at a higher cost. It's all about who's going to pay," Cleveland Clinic heart chief Dr. Steven Nissen, who was not involved in the research, told the Associated Press.

The device, made by Pleasanton, California-based Thoratec Corp., is the first of a new generation of smaller pumps that continuously push blood, rather than mimicking a heartbeat like conventional pumps do.

A small wire from the patient's abdomen connects the device to a tiny computer and batteries the patient wears in a belt pack.

The pump was approved last year for those awaiting a heart transplant.

The Thoratec-funded study tested the device in heart failure patients too ill to be eligible for a transplant.  The study's 200 participants ranged in age from 26 to 81 years old at several U.S. sites.

Two-thirds of the patients received the new device, while the remainder received an older HeartMate pump. 

After two years, doctors found that 46 percent of those using the new pump and 11 percent of those on the conventional pump were alive without having experienced a stroke or requiring an operation to repair or replace the device.


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