Half-Cow, Half-Machine Artificial Heart Implanted in First HumanS

This week, French surgeons implanted a Carmat artificial heart in a human patient for the very first time. The device, which combines mechanical components and heart tissue derived from cows, is the first artificial heart designed for long-term use up to five years.

Standard artificial hearts and heart-assist devices are only meant to be used short term: harsh mechanical pumps shred and damage blood cells, and plastic surfaces promote blood clot formation. The Carmat heart was designed for up to five years of use, employing flexible, hydraulically-operated chambers that squeeze, rather than pump, the blood into the circulatory system, lined with natural bovine heart tissue to prevent clotting.

Still, the Carmat heart has its drawbacks — at 2lbs, it weighs almost three times as much as the average human heart, and each one costs more than $200,000. The device was approved for human trials earlier this year. The Paris patient who received the first device on Wednesday is awake and talking, and being watched closely in intensive care. [Reuters]