A new "electronic smart pump" whose purpose is to increase the survival chances of victims of chronic heart failure is being developed by researchers at Nottingham Trent University and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.
The battery-operated device is self-contained, and involves implanting a "smart"aortic graft into a removed section of the aorta - the large artery which exits the left ventricle in the heart – to improve the heart's efficiency.
The graft is made of material which expands when voltage is applied to it. The graft surrounds an inner woven tube and acts as a pump, collapsing and expanding.
The device - for which a patent has been filed - would create a counter blood-flow by 'beating' out of phase with the diseased heart. When the heart fills with blood, the woven tube would contract to increase pressure in the heart. When the heart then pumps oxygenated blood around the body, the tube would expand to release the pressure and increase the blood flow.
Using 3D printing techniques, the research team aims for the smart pump to be tailor-made to each patient by using MRI scan data.
The smart pump would be powered by a battery implanted in the patient's body and would be entirely self-contained, without the need for the patient to be hospital bedbound and connected to large machinery via catheters and transdermal lines.
Dr Philip Breedon, a reader in smart technologies at Nottingham Trent University's School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, who is leading the research team, said: "This device could really be ground-breaking and more effective than any other therapy currently being used around the world.
"Chronic heart failure is a major health challenge and up to 40 per cent of sufferers die within the first year.
"The best form of treatment is a heart transplant, but the demand by far outweighs the supply as around 160,000 people require one in Europe each year, but only 600 donor hearts are available.
"The technology currently used to help people with acute heart failure can only be used for a few days and involves the patient being attached to large external machines which need to be plugged into the mains power supply.
"The smart aortic graft has the potential to not only extend a patient's life, but also to provide them with mobility, comfort and a reduced need for carers."
Research projects relating to the device are set to go on show for Nottingham Trent University's Art and Design Postgraduate Expo 2013 this month.
Associate professor David Richens, consultant cardiac surgeon at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "The smart aortic graft is a unique, cutting edge solution to a global health problem and promises to be cheaper and better than current devices.
"The cost of heart failure in the UK alone is £625 million a year and, according to the World Heart Failure Society, incidences of heart failure are steadily rising around the globe.
"The smart aortic graft would revolutionize the way people are treated and the technologies which underpin the design have the potential to transform the treatment of other diseases, such as Esophageal Achalasia.
"Designs such as this are revealing the true potential of smart materials in medical product design. This technology really could be the start of a new beginning in the way we use equipment to help save people's lives."
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