Patients awaiting heart transplant surgery can be supported with an artificial pump to keep their heart beating, according to a new study.
The device, called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), is the latest generation of heart assist devices.
"LVADs have allowed us to support patients until they can receive a heart transplant, so they are called a bridge to transplant. For patients whose hearts are failing and are awaiting transplantation, these devices can be lifesavers," said Gregory Ewald, M.D., a Washington University cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and medical director of the Heart Failure, Cardiac Transplantation and Total Artificial Heart Program.
An LVAD is implanted inside the chest cavity near the heart and is connected to the heart's left ventricle (pumping chamber).
It assists the patient's weakened or damaged ventricle in pumping blood through the body. By restoring a normal blood flow, the device improves patients' health. Because it is powered by portable battery packs, patients usually go home while they wait for a heart transplant.
The LVAD used in this study, the VentrAssist, is termed a third-generation heart assist device. Measuring 2.5-inches across and weighing 10 ounces, the pump is considered an improvement over earlier devices because its size and lightweight make it suitable for small adults and children.
In addition, its pumping mechanism has no contacting parts for improved durability.
Patients who received the LVAD in the study were approved and listed for cardiac transplantation. The study considered the device successful if a patient survived until heart transplantation or survived at least 180 days after the device was implanted and remained qualified for heart transplantation. Eighty-five percent of patients met this measure of success.
Out of 98 patients who received the device, 60 were transplanted, 19 continued to be supported with the device and 19 died. The median time on LVAD support was 131 days.
Adverse events reported during the trial included stroke and bleeding, and the number and type of adverse events was similar to other LVADs but better than that of first-generation VAD devices.
Answering standardized questionnaires for patients with heart failure, they reported a significantly improved quality of life after receiving the device, indicating that their heart failure was less apt to interfere with everyday activities such as housework, hobbies or sleeping or to affect their mood, ability to concentrate or energy level.
Results of this third-generation heart assist device were reported at the 58th annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology on March 30.