For the first time in the Netherlands, the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMC Utrecht) has implanted a complete artificial heart in a patient suffering from severe heart failure. The university hospital announced this today in a press release. The surgery took place at the beginning of November and the implantation of the artificial heart went successfully. The patient is doing well and was discharged from the Intensive Care Unit within two days.

The artificial heart replaces and takes over the function of the whole heart. This innovative artificial heart enhances the pumping function and blood supply, thereby reducing the problems that the patient suffers from. Innovation Origins has previously reported on this artificial heart.

There is a major shortage of donor hearts in the Netherlands – around 120 heart patients are on the waiting list for a donor heart each year. The innovative artificial heart offers a solution for patients whose critical situation means they can no longer wait for a heart transplant.

As a leading center, UMC Utrecht has been selected by the French manufacturer CARMAT SA to become the first in the Netherlands to implant this artificial heart in a patient with very severe heart failure. The artificial heart replaces the patient’s diseased heart and takes over its entire function. The artificial heart is attached to the atria of the heart, the large coronary artery and the pulmonary artery. Due to its anatomical shape, the artificial heart is similar to that of the adult human heart.

Successful implantation 

The implantation of the artificial heart in the patient went well and the first impressions are promising, claims Faiz Ramjankhan, cardiothoracic surgeon at UMC Utrecht under whose direction the surgery was carried out. “It was an exciting operation that required a great deal of preparation. We’ve been working with our team since 2017 to make the implantation of an artificial heart feasible. We attended specific training sessions over the past few months in order to do this surgery together with the entire team. We are proud to be one of the first centers to be part of the study exploring this new artificial heart technology. If this treatment proves to be long-lasting enough, it will allow us to treat a lot more patients who currently have no other treatment options.”

Artificial heart and external box

The innovative artificial heart is fitted with pumps, four biological valves, sensors, electronics and integrated software. Ramjankhan explains: “The advantage of this artificial heart is that the exterior is made of plastic polyurethane and the interior is lined with biological material from the pericardium of a bovine. Through a membrane, the blood is pushed along to the coronary and pulmonary arteries. As a result, the blood comes primarily into contact with biological material.” The artificial heart is connected via a cable that protrudes from the patient’s abdominal wall to the surface. This cable is connected to a controller and a set of four batteries that the patient always carries around with them in a shoulder bag. The patient is able to move freely with this shoulder bag which weighs approximately three kilos. 

Very severe heart failure

In early November, the first implantation of the artificial heart in the Netherlands took place in a 54-year-old man with severe biventricular heart failure. Both the left and right ventricles were not functioning properly and this led to serious problems such as fatigue, fluid retention and shortness of breath, both when at rest and on exertion. A final option for treatment was a heart transplant sometime in the future. But waiting for that would take too long for this patient and probably end up causing their death. The innovative artificial heart offers a solution for patients who cannot wait for a heart transplant on account of their critical situation. There is still a long waiting list for heart surgery, as there is a considerable shortage of donor hearts.

Improved pump function and blood supply  

The new artificial heart improves the pump function and blood supply for the patient, resulting in fewer physical complaints. Dr. Linda van Laake, cardiologist and responsible for the selection of patients: ” Thanks to the innovative pumps, valves and sensors, the artificial heart adapts itself to the patient. The human heart pumps an average of 4 to 5 liters of blood per minute at rest; this increases with exercise. The artificial heart will also pump faster upon exertion. A promising development is that the artificial heart will not require the use of heavy medication that suppresses the immune system. This is better for the immune system and reduces the risk of infections. As the patient’s recovery progresses, activities such as walking and cycling can be resumed.”

Also interesting: Swiss-made aorta is a work of art

Of course, this new artificial heart will be subjected to thorough medical scientific research to examine its safety, efficacy and sustainability levels in patients with severe heart failure. Full reimbursement by health insurance companies is not (yet) available.

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