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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 09:00 GMT


Space technology saves lives

Professor de Bakey demonstrates the artificial heart

The lives of some patients with heart disease could benefit from a new artificial heart developed with technology from the space shuttle programme.

BBC Sicence Correspondent James Wilkinson: "The technology was used on the space shuttle."
The device has been fitted on six occasions, and four of the patients are still alive.

Surgeons believe it can be a useful stopgap while patients wait for transplants with human hearts.

A mini-propeller called an impeller is sewn on to the heart so that blood can bypass the hearts main pumping chamber.

The impeller spins at 10,000 revolutions a minute, driving blood around the body.

The minute heart can either tide a patient over until a donor organ becomes available for transplant, or until their own heart is sufficiently recovered to operate effectively on its own.

Before surgery to fit the new device Rudolf Hauer was desperately ill with heart disease, and would have died soon without the operation.

"When I climbed the stairs I have to go really slowly and I was out of breath," he said.

Long struggle for perfection

The artificial devices have been used to aid people suffering from heart disease for the last 30 years.

[ image: Rudolph Hauer's live was saved by the artificial heart]
Rudolph Hauer's live was saved by the artificial heart
Initially artificial hearts completely replaced the diseased heart. Later auxiliary pumps were attached to the heart.

The latest technology has been developed on the same principal as pumps in the space shuttle that move large amounts of fuel at low pressure.

Ninety-year-old heart surgeon Professor Michael de Bakey perfected the design.

"This has tremendous clinical potential," he said.

"When you think in terms of the numbers of patients who are in chronic heart failure for whom very little can be done except maybe a heart transplant."

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