Tiny, less invasive pump keeps weak hearts beating

Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne's (EPFL) Integrated Actuators Laboratory (LAI) have developed a small ring to be placed on the aorta to help those recovering from certain diseases or those waiting for a transplant. In those circumstances, the heart is often weakened and needs some help pumping.

The device--dubbed Dielectric Electro Active Polymer, or DEAP--is comprised of three small rings with electrical properties, the announcement said. The rings, which are placed on the aorta where it exits the heart, dilate if a current is applied, and once again contract when that current is switched off--a movement that can be controlled in real time, the statement said.

Jonathan Chavanne, a Ph.D. student at LAI, explained how, when it is activated, an electrostatic force brings together two electrodes on each ring. "The electrodes squeeze the polymer as they come together," Chavanne said in the announcement. "Yet because this material is incompressible, its volume remains constant. So its surface area increases and stores up elastic energy."

Each ring contracts, one after the other, in a movement that the announcement explained as "reminiscent of an earthworm." These contractions are called peristalsis. The wave it creates pushes the liquid in the artery, helping the heart to pump blood. The DEAP itself never comes into direct contact with that blood.

"This means it is significantly less invasive than other cardiac support systems, which work by implanting valves or screw pumps inside the ventricle," Yves Perriard, director of the LAI, explained. Thus, the risk of hemolysis is eliminated, the announcement alleged.

Even more, since everything works via magnetic induction, there are no wires to worry about.

Currently this device is in the prototype stage, and the team has plans to contact the University Hospital of Bern in regards to potential clinical trials.

- here's the press release