Using cow parts to save ailing human hearts isn't anything new—you could even be sitting next to one of our more bovine brethren right now and think nothing of it. But the newest cow-to-heart integration takes a bit of a deeper dive into science fiction land. Soon, a French medical company will begin testing a "bioprosthetic" heart on actual human patients that is part cow, part synthetic, and loaded with software.
Created by Paris-based medical firm Carmat, the man-made heart carries two chambers, just like Mom used to make. But that's pretty much where the similarities end, since each chamber is divided by a membrane (made of tissue swiped from a cow's heart) with blood on one side and hydraulic fluid on the other. A motorized pump in the device moves this fluid through the chambers, putting force on the membrane, which in turn, forces the blood to flow through the other side. According to Piet Jansen, chief medical officer of Carmat:
The idea was to develop an artificial heart in which the moving parts that are in contact with blood are made of tissue that is [better suited] for the biological environment.
Other than the dividing membrane, the valves themselves also come from cow heart tissue. In their new role, though, these cow valves are embedded with sensors meant to identify pressure increases. When it notes changes, an external control system will adjust the flow of blood as needed—like when the patient is jogging, for instance.
The artificial hearts will be tested on patients in four different European cardiac surgery centers before being given to patients waiting for a heart transplant. If the tests are successful, this new heart could offer some much needed hope to the roughly 5.7 million people in the United States suffering from heart failure at any given time.
And thus begins the era of the cowborg. [MIT Technology Review]