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Give an artificial heart this Valentine’s Day

If Cupid had a heart, or three or four, there still wouldn’t be enough to give to over 2,000 patients in need of a transplant. However, French company Carmat may have just come up with a solution. Dolapo Agunbiade investigates
A human heart used in the spelling of “LOVE”. Although the hearts won’t be available by Valentine’s day, Carmat hopes to have them on the market by the end of 2021. Photo and design by Dolapo Agunbiade

The month of February is a month designed to remind people of matters of the heart. That’s right, Heart Awareness Month is currently being celebrated across the globe. It is a time when people can reflect on their lifestyle choices, bring awareness and raise money for those who suffer from heart disease.

“Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women across the United States and also worldwide and a lot of that is highly preventable,” said cardiologist Dr. Alex Harrison to KEYT News. 

According to the Irish Heart Foundation, heart failure is one of Ireland’s leading causes of death. They stated that, in Ireland, there are approximately 10,000 new cases each year. The best remedy for severe heart failure is a transplant. However, thousands die each year waiting for their operation. 

“The idea behind this heart was to create a device which would replace heart transplants”

Stéphane Piat

French company Carmat received their CE marking on 22 December from European regulators. This mark gives them the permission to sell their total artificial heart system. Their product, Aeson – named after a character in Greek mythology who drank a potion that added more years to his life – is designed to impersonate real hearts by using biological sensors and materials. The artificial heart is able to regulate blood flow by using its mechanical pump. 

“The idea behind this heart, which was born nearly 30 years ago, was to create a device which would replace heart transplants, a device that works physiologically like a human heart, one that’s pulsating, self-regulated and compatible with blood,” Stéphane Piat, Carmat’s CEO, told Reuters. 

For now, the three-part device will be used as a stopgap until a transplant is available for those suffering from severe, incurable heart disease. This will give patients who may not have received an organ in time a chance to wait patiently for donations. Even though the battery operated piece of technology is a temporary solution, it has been recorded that the hearts can last up to five years, allowing patients to live comfortably in the meantime. 

In the company statement they say, “Carmat aims to provide a lasting solution to the treatment of terminal heart failure, a disease for which there are very few effective options today, the main one being heart transplants.”

However, this device may not be available to everyone. It has been recorded that Aeson will be sold at the price range of €150,000 and upwards. This extravagant price-point is not suitable for lower-income patients who are in dire need of support.

Another possible disadvantage of Carmat’s artificial heart is its weight. The device weighs in at 900g, which is three times more than the average heart – the average ranging from 250 to 300g. This size also alienates children in need from receiving the company’s temporary heart. 

I spoke with former senior cardiology specialist Dr. Oye Akindele to understand the possible negative outcomes of artificial hearts.

Dr. Akindele said, “the implications of an artificial heart are numerous. Due to its mechanical nature, parts can wear out or the electrical motor system could fail causing the blood passing through the system to form clots and cause strokes.” 

He continued, “also, some patients are prone to severe bleeding. Their blood may be too thin from previous medications used to support the artificial heart.”

Dr. Akindele then stressed the importance of heart donors and how the right donor should improve and prolong the recipient’s quality of life.

A 3D demonstration of Carmat’s hear at work

The three-part device might not be ready just in time for 14 February, but Piat estimates there will be “a smooth commercial launch during the second quarter of 2021”. The introductory launch will be focused on France and Germany and then subsequent distribution across Europe will follow. 

What are the signs of heart failure? According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of heart failure include but aren’t limited to; shortness in breath, fatigue, rapid or irregular heartbeats and lack of appetite. 

If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from heart disease, please contact your local doctor.  

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