The Beat Goes On

University of Houston Engineering Professors Help Study New Device Thanks to $2.8M NIH Grant

Patients on the waiting list for a heart transplant soon may have more options thanks to a new device being developed by the Texas Heart Institute in collaboration with two University of Houston professors.

As part of a biomedical research team working to create a pulseless total artificial heart (TAH), Matthew Franchek and Ralph Metcalfe, both mechanical engineering professors in the Cullen College of Engineering at UH, are focusing on developing a control system that emulates how the natural heart responds to physiological conditions within the body. The TAH is designed to perform the function of both the right and left ventricles, and these advancements in technology are meant to enable it to respond to the body’s changing need for blood.

The professors say the complexity of existing devices that just mimic the pulsating pump action of the natural heart not only makes their size nearly impossible for use in smaller adults and children, but also causes reliability concerns, such as failure due to mechanical fatigue. The proposed TAH replaces the pulsatile feature with two pulseless continuous flow pumps, each about the size of a C battery. The pumps also are unique in that their cardiac output automatically adjusts to physiological needs. To ensure proper integration of the TAH on a patient-to-patient basis, the UH team will be adding onboard intelligence to the TAH using automatic controls.