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Engineering A Better Artificial Heart

Wed, 12/04/2013 - 10:03am
Madeline Stix

The human heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute, more than 86,000 times a day, 35 million times a year. A single beat pushes about 6 tablespoons of blood through the body.

An organ that works that hard is bound to fail, says Dr. Billy Cohn, a heart surgeon at the Texas Heart Institute. And he's right. Heart failure is the leading cause of death in men and women, killing more than 600,000 Americans every year.

For a lucky few, a heart transplant will add an average of 10 years to their lives. For others, technology that assists a failing heart -- called "bridge-to-transplant" devices -- will keep them alive as they wait for a donor heart.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the new heart doesn't arrive in time.

That's why Cohn and his mentor -- veteran heart surgeon Dr. O.H "Bud" Frazier -- are working to develop a long-term, artificial replacement for the failing human heart. Unlike existing short-term devices that emulate the beating organ, the new machine would propel blood through the body at a steady pace so that its recipients will have no heartbeat at all.

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