Scientists at The University of Auckland have developed the 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.
TETCor chief executive officer Dr Simon Malpas says heart pumps need a huge amount of power. The only way to power current artificial heart pumps is through a wire cable that goes through a patient’s stomach and chest. He says these wires cause serious infections, sometimes leading to death, in about forty percent of patients. The wires are also prone to breaking and restrict a patient’s activities.
“This new wireless heart pump weights only 92 grams and measures just seven centimetres by three centimetres. It 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.”
Dr Malpas says 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 says the secret of this new technology is to deliver exactly the right amount of power, thereby eliminating the heating problem. This technology is based on research by The 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 work together to combine the power transfer technology with the pump technology, and plan to begin patient trials within 24 months.
“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.”
Auckland Bioengineering Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr David Budgett says this technology could also be used to power other medical devices that need a lot of power, such as artificial bladders and sphincters (muscles that contract to close an opening).
“This is an excellent example of the University’s research producing technology and developing a pathway that can then lead to commercial success.”