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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK
Heart pump trial to start in UK
Image of heart failure
The failing heart is bigger and does not pump efficiently
Patients with heart failure are to test a new type of heart pump.

Older style pumps are prone to wear and tear and have had problems with blood clotting, increasing the risk of stroke.

Doctors will test the VentrAssist device, developed in Australia by Ventracor, to see if it overcomes these problems.

Heart surgeon Steven Tsu, of Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, hopes the trial will get the go-ahead this month.

Papworth is the only hospital in Europe to take part in the trial.

This is welcome news for people with severe heart failure who may benefit from these devices
Alison Shaw, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation

With the help of four other hospitals in Australia, the researchers plan to test the device in 30 heart failure patients awaiting a heart transplant.

Later, patients who are not suitable for transplants may also be fitted with the devices.

Each device will cost between 80,000 and 100,000, including the intensive care the patient will need, but the cost is expected to fall over time as more devices are fitted.

The researchers say they will look at their results after six months.

VentrAssist is a type of left ventricular assist device (LVAD). It, and another type called Incor, have been designed so they should be long-lasting.

They are designed to help the pumping action of the left ventricle - one of the four chambers that make up the heart.

They give the heart muscle time to rest or recover and can support the failing heart until a donor heart becomes available for transplantation.

This relieves the symptoms of extreme breathlessness and fatigue associated with severe heart failure.

In the past, LVADs were large pieces of equipment used only in hospitals. More recently, much smaller devices have been developed for internal use.

But these have a tendency to make the blood pool and clot and are prone to failure because of their complicated design.

New technology

VentrAssist is different because it has only one moving part to pump the blood in a continuous stream, which its manufacturer says avoids the problems with clotting and wear and tear problems found with other LVADs.

It has two tubes - one draws blood from the left ventricle into the pumping device and the other sends the blood out into the aorta, which is the body's main artery from the heart.

Six copper coils within the pumping chamber of the device generate magnetic fields that make the free-floating blades spin round.

Image of VentrAssist
The device sits between the heart and the ribs

The continuous pumping means the patient's pulse is replaced by a constant whir - similar to the sound of a washing machine.

According to the British Heart Foundation, LVADs are a temporary measure - the longest that one of these devices has supported a patient so far is two years.

But VentrAssist's developers believe this device could provide a permanent alternative to heart transplants.

Mr Tsui, cardiothoracic surgeon and director of mechanical assist heart services at Papworth Hospital, told BBC News Online: "For the first time, we're seeing pumps that have the potential to provide a lifetime of support."

He added: "In the UK there are 130-140 heart transplants performed per year but there must be 10 times that number of people who could benefit because there is a shortage of donors.

"This type of device has got the potential to be an alternative."

He said there were half a dozen similar devices in development around the world.

Alison Shaw, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation said: "This is welcome news for people with severe heart failure who may benefit from these devices.

"However, until results of long term studies are published the use of these devices will be limited to a selected number of cases."

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