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Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Heart pump trial launched 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 and are prone to wear and tear and have had problems with blood clotting, increasing the risk of stroke.

The VentrAssist device, developed in Australia by Ventracor, should overcome these problems, say researchers in New Scientist magazine.

Steven Tsui at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge will run trials in the UK from this autumn.

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.

They will look at their results six months later.

VentrAssist is a type of left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

These 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 manufactures says avoids the problems 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 had supported a patient so far is two years.

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

Mr Tsui, cardiothoracic surgeon and director of mechanical assist heart services at Papworth Hospital, said: "Ultimately, we want pumps that can last a lifetime.

"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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26 Apr 04  |  Health

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