Revolutionary artificial heart a lifeline for heart failure patients

Griffith University is part of a transdisciplinary consortium to develop and commercialise revolutionary and life-changing implantable cardiac devices that, for the first time, will offer longer term solutions for all types of debilitating heart failure.

Griffith Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans.
Griffith Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans

Griffith Vice Chancellor and President Professor Carolyn Evans said the Artificial Heart Frontiers Program, led by Monash University, was awarded a $50 million grant from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

“To receive a grant of this magnitude is a tremendous achievement for our researchers who are at the forefront of changing the lives of people with heart failure,” Professor Evans said. 

“This has been a collaborative effort with industry and further reinforces the increasing focus on linking university research with industry for commercial outcomes and social impact. 

“With our links to the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, this is a truly unique environment where experts in diverse disciplines achieve real world outcomes.” 

Associate Professor Michael Simmonds

The MRFF grant will be used towards developing and commercialising three key devices to treat the most common forms of heart failure.

Associate Professor Michael Simmonds, from Griffith’s Mechanobiology Research Laboratory, leads a team that has worked collaboratively with biomedical company BiVACOR providing expertise that has been critical towards the regulatory approval of the devices and to ensure they’re blood friendly.

“Working with my team, and particularly Dr Antony McNamee, the BiVACOR Total Artificial Heart was put through a series of unique tests,” Associate Professor Simmonds said.

“One of these devices is a complete artificial heart that has all the functions of a native heart which is revolutionary, while the other two technologies offer different approaches to support a failing heart.

“All three devices use technologies that will allow them to mimic a natural heart by automatically responding to the body’s physical demands, for the first-time offering those with heart failure a pathway to staying active.

“These complimentary technologies present substantial improvements over current devices that operate with a relatively fixed blood flow rate which presents a barrier to normal living in community.

“Ultimately, this is a game changer for those with advanced heart failure who are typically bed-bound by enabling them to return to relatively normal living.

“In a similar way that native heart transplants revolutionised outcomes for those with heart failure decades ago, these technologies present a similar breakthrough especially for the 95 per cent of those with heart failure that are unable to receive native heart transplants.

“It is really rewarding to see our work in blood biophysics translate into the real world, where next-generation medical devices are benefiting from the work of Griffith researchers.”

“It is rare for engineers, industrial designers, scientists, and medical professionals to come together and rub shoulders on major health issues such as heart failure.

“Indeed, our program represents an international first where a device can be digitally designed, evaluated in simulation and physical testbeds, and taken through the regulatory processes for eventual use in clinical scenarios.

“Nothing has been overlooked, even down to the patient-device interface being guided by industrial design experts that will ensure user-friendly technologies.”

These devices address different stages of heart failure and thus offer tremendous benefit to many with advanced cardiac disease.

This program promises to establish Australia as a world leader in the design and development cardiac medical technologies.

The devices comprise:

  • The Australia-US based BiVACOR Total Artificial Heart (TAH) that fully replaces a failed native heart
  • A new type of Left Ventricle Assist Device (LVAD) that is implanted next to a failing natural heart to facilitate near-normal function
  • A wholly new miniature device, the Mini-Pump, that can be used in those with an acute failing heart and need rapid life support

BiVACOR’s TAH and the Frontiers Program’s new LVAD are expected to offer an industry-leading device life of over ten years.

Both involve a rotating impeller that is entirely suspended by magnetic levitation within its casing, meaning that the moving parts only touch blood and thus generate minimal friction or mechanical wear.

Both the TAH and LVAD are also expected to be smaller than existing devices, making implantation easier and increasing the range of patients that can receive them, including smaller adults and children.

The MRFF funding will support clinical trials to be conducted within Australia, with partners includingThe Alfred in Melbourne and St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney.