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October 25, 1995
Hershey Researchers Win Contract to Improve Heart Pump

Hershey, Pa -- Researchers at Penn State's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center have been awarded a five-year contract by the National Heart, Lung and blood Institute to develop the next generation of permanent, electric heart- assist pumps.

Funding was awarded to six research teams. The Hershey contract is for approximately $3.2 million.

"The contract will allow us to use new technologies to evaluate new electronics and materials and make improvements on the current model," says Gerson Rosenberg, Ph.D., research professor of surgery and chief of artificial organs.

"Our strategy is to take a device that's fairly far along in development and improve some of its features," he says.

Hershey researchers have been working with Arrow International to take the current version of the electric LVAD through the FDA approval process and into general clinical use within five years. The device is powered by rechargeable batteries and lasts approximately two years; the new LVAD will be for five years.

William S. Pierce, M.D., Evan Pugh and Jane A. Fetter Professor of surgery and chief of cardiothoracic surgery, is the Hershey team's principal investigator.

The LVAD would be a permanent version for patients who have heart failure affecting the left side of the heart but don't need a transplant of a total artificial heart. The NHLBI estimates that the LVAD could save some 35,000 lives a year.

Rosenberg says that private commercial companies have taken over development of the devices in recent years. "It's important for the government to get involved to continue LVAD development because companies usually can't afford the $1 to $2 million a year it costs to develop a new device," he notes.

The assist device supports a heart's weak left ventricle in pumping blood through the body. Though the device originally was intended to let the heart rest and recover after surgery, as transplants became more common, its use shifted to a bridging device, helping keep some patients alive while waiting for a donor heart.

The current FDA-approved air-driven model sits on the patient's abdomen and is connected to his own heart with plastic tubes that pass through the skin of the chest. A power unit sends timed pulses of air against a diaphragm that presses a blood-filled sac, squeezing blood out and into the circulation.

In 1990, the Penn State Heart-Assist P{ump was named an International Historic mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical engineers. Since 1976, more than 500 air-driven Penn State pumps have been used at 18 centers throughout the world as bridges to heart transplantation.

The teams that were awarded an NHLBI contract include: Nimbus, Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh; the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and The Ohio State University; Transcoil, Inc. and the Texas Heart Institute; Abiomed, Inc. and Columbia Presbyterian medical Center; and Whalen Biomedical, Inc. and the University of Utah.

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