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Surgeons Using New Device for End-Stage Heart Failure

Barnes-Jewish and Washington University surgeons have a new device to assist patients suffering from end-stage heart failure. VentrAssist is a next generation heart assist device designed to provide long-term cardiac support for patients in need of a heart transplant.

The device is a ventricular assist device (VAD) and is surgically attached to the heart’s left ventricle. It sits over the abdomen inside the skin and assists with heart function as the patient then waits for a new heart via transplant.

Surgeons have been using such devices for close to a decade, but VentrAssist differentiates itself from its predecessors such as HeartMate and Novacor. Those devices operate using mechanical bearings, which over time may wear out. VentrAssist has only one moving part ¬– a hydrodynamically suspended impeller. “It’s a bearingless pump that uses magnets to spin the rotor,” says Nader Moazami, MD, surgical director of the Artificial Heart Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

“The suspension is actually by blood and it’s described as a hydrodynamic pump.”

“Theoretically this device should last for an average of five to 10 years since there’s no potential for bearings to give out,” says Dr. Moazami.

In the U.S., over 3,500 people annually are on the heart transplant waiting list, and there are simply not enough organs available to meet that type of demand.

Surgeons use VADs for either “destination therapy” so a patient can live with the device indefinitely, or as a “bridge to transplant” where the device assists the ailing heart’s function until a donor heart becomes available.

Dr. Moazami says VentrAssist was developed for potential destination therapy, but at this point is only being used as a bridge to transplant, as it is still an experimental investigational device approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only for research purposes.

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