New artificial heart with cow tissue may reduce risk of stroke, say researchers

13th August 2015

The first two patients fitted with a new total artificial heart which incorporates cow tissue have died from device failure, the Lancet has reported.

The new hearts, which include tissue taken from the sac surrounding a cow’s heart, aim to reduce the risk of strokes that come with more traditional devices.

Components in the Carmat heart that come into contact with blood are lined with bovine heart tissue chemically treated to improve patient tolerance and blood compatibility.

The devices, developed in France, were given to two men with severe heart failure. One aged 76, was up walking after 14 days, had various problems including clots, pneumonia and bleeding from a gastric ulcer but died after 74 days because of failure from an electronic component.

The second man, aged 68, suffered renal failure but died after 270 days because of device failure. Neither had any stroke complications.

The researchers, led by Dr Alain Carpentier from Paris Descartes University, said: "This initial experience in two patients provides an optimistic appraisal of the value of using bioprosthetic materials in artificial hearts and devices. Since this report has been accepted for publication, a third patient has been implanted successfully and is now being rehabilitated close to his hometown, 104 days postoperatively."

But the new heart, unlike the more commonly used ventricular assist devices, does not have the back-up pump of the patient’s heart. So any technical failure causing the heart to stop inevitably led to death, as it did in both patients in this study.

The editorial concluded that only if the new heart showed more longevity in its components could it become a true alternative to ventricular assist devices.