A heart pump can do more than just provide a bridge to a transplant.Heart failure is characterised by a decreased ability of the heart muscle to pump blood around the body. Till now, it has always been assumed that heart failure is irreversible - with the only real cure being a transplant.
The left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is a mechanical pump which is used to support the failing heart - taking over some of its workload. It's used a bridge to transplant - buying patients some time while they wait for that scarce donor organ. Researchers at Dallas, USA, have now shown that the LVAD does more than just keep the patient going - it actually improves the condition of the heart muscle.
The researchers looked at heart tissue from two groups of transplant patients - one group had received LVAD support, the other had not. In the first group, the heart muscle had a stronger contracting mechanism than in the second - suggesting that the LVAD was actually reversing the heart failure. More studies are needed - but this discovery raises the intriguing possibility that the LVAD can actually be a cure for heart failure than a support device.