Evolution of Artificial Heart Technology

The quest for an artificial heart started with the advent of successful heart surgery to remove shell fragments from soldiers during World War II.

1950s and 1960s
These decades witnessed many key developments, including:

  • the heart-lung machine,
  • prosthetic materials to replace damaged arteries and veins and to close holes between heart chambers,
  • replacement valves,
  • implantable pacemakers,
  • coronary angiography to diagnose and treat coronary artery disease, and
  • the intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP)

1970s and 1980s
During these decades,

  • the IABP gains wide acceptance as a temporary cardiac assist system.
  • cyclosporine, an anti-rejection drug, makes human heart transplants feasible, although the small number of donor hearts limits the number of patients who can benefit from this therapy.
  • percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) to treat coronary artery disease with a balloon catheter.
  • external and implantable ventricular assist devices enter clinical trials.

This decade has ushered in new technologies including:

  • ABIOMED’s BVS 5000™ Bi-ventricular Support System, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for support of patients with failing but potentially recoverable hearts.
  • external and implantable left ventricular assist devices, approved for temporary support as a bridge-to-transplantation.

Before ABIOMED’s developmental work on a fully Implantable Replacement Heart, experimental artificial heart technology relied on large external power and control units. Some important milestones in the development of artificial-heart technology are listed below.

Designed by Drs. Willem Kolff and Tetsuzo Akutsu in 1958, this polyvinyl chloride device sustained a dog for 90 minutes. Dr. Willem Kolff and his team developed this silicone rubber heart for a calf in 1965.
This 1969 heart, designed by Dr. Domingo Liotta, was the first to be implanted in a human being as a bridge to transplant by Dr. Denton A. Cooley. The patient survived for almost three days with the artificial heart and 36 hours more with a transplanted heart. The artificial heart developed by a team led by Drs. Willem Kolff, Donald Olsen, and Robert Jarvik, the Jarvik-7, was the first to be implanted in a human as destination therapy in 1982, by Dr. William DeVries.