Without a Pulse: New Mechanical Heart

Mechanical Heart 143538 03052012

Popular Science:

A transplantable heart, alas, is an increasingly rare find. It has to come from a person who is in the blush of good health and also, somehow, dead. As cars have gotten safer and states have passed laws requiring seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, the number of such hearts has dwindled. The need for hearts, on the other hand, has grown with the world’s population and the conquering of other diseases. And even when a heart is found, patients face the risk of tissue rejection.

Building a heart that mimics nature’s lub-dub may be as comically shortsighted as Leonardo da Vinci designing a flying machine with flapping wings. Nature is not always the best designer, at least when it comes to things that humans must build and maintain. So the newest artificial heart doesn’t imitate the cardiac muscle at all. Instead, it whirs like a little propeller, pushing blood through the body at a steady rate. After 500 million years of evolution accustoming the human body to blood moving through us in spurts, a pulse may not be necessary. That, in any case, is the point of view of the 50-odd calves, and no fewer than three human beings, who have gotten along just fine with their blood coursing through them as evenly as Freon through an air conditioner.

Photo by GrandeDuc/ShutterStock.

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