Scientists at the University of Auckland have developed a technology to power a wireless heart pump that could save the lives of thousands of heart patients, and eventually offer an alternative to heart transplants.
The wireless heart pump uses magnetic fields to transfer power through a person’s skin rather than using wire cables. The pump can be powered this way 24 hours a day for a person’s lifetime.
The new technology came out of collaboration between scientists from the University of Auckland’s Bioengineering Institute, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Department of Physiology.
A new company, TETCor, was created to take the technology to market for powering a wide range of devices implanted in the human body.
Dr Simon Malpas, chief executive officer at TETCor, said that heart pumps need a huge amount of power, and traditionally, the only way to power them was through a wire cable that went through a patient’s stomach and chest.
But, he said, these wires cause serious infections in about 40 per cent of patients. The wires are also prone to breaking and restrict a patient’s activities.
On the other hand, the new wireless heart pump, which weighs 92g and measures 7cm by 3cm, uses a coil outside a person’s body to generate a magnetic field. A second coil placed inside a person’s body, near the collar bone, picks up the signal from this field and creates power for the pump.
Malpas said that previous attempts at making wireless heart pumps produced too much heat. These earlier pumps would have ended up ‘cooking a person from the inside’. He added that the secret of the new technology was that it delivered exactly the right amount of power, thereby eliminating the heating problem. The technology used was based on research by University of Auckland scientist Dr Patrick Hu.
TETCor has just licensed the technology for the wireless heart pump to the US medical company MicroMed. The two companies will now work together to combine the power transfer technology with the pump technology, and plan to begin patient trials within 24 months.
Malpas said: ‘These wireless heart pumps could be implanted in about 50,000 people each year around the world within 10 years. It’s probably the most extreme implantable medical device you can get. If these pumps stop, you only have about one minute to live.’
Dr David Budgett , senior research fellow at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, said that the technology could also be used to power other medical devices that need a lot of power, such as artificial bladders and sphincters.