Heart disease is a narrowing of small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. Heart disease caused over half of the deaths in the US in 2001 and is still the leading cause of death in the US today; engineers are working to change that with artificial hearts.
Heart disease is no laughing matter. Heart disease is common in 50 to 60-year-old-men and 65 to75-year-old-women. Risk factors include smoking, poor diet, high blood pressure, diabetes, substance abuse, and obesity. Every 29 seconds someone suffers from a coronary heart disease occurrence, and when direct and indirect costs are taken into effect heart disease costs the US about $300 annually.
The National Institute of Health started the artificial heart program in 1964 with a goal of making one within ten years. When someone has serious heart disease sometimes it’s crucial to get a heart transplant. A heart transplant is when a person’s heart is so bad it needs to be replaced or the patient would die from heart failure. Heart disease (coronary artery disease), can lead to heart failure. There is a large demand for donor hearts that cannot always be met; this is where engineers come into play. The first artificial heart was implanted into a dying patient who lived for two and a half days waiting for a donor heart. Although he died from other complications, if the artificial heart would have been left in longer he could have lived longer.
There is room for improvement, but great strides have been made. Recently, some artificial hearts have been made small enough for women and children; in 2009 the Jarvik-7, an artificial heart currently on the market, was redesigned and the 400 LB. assist device was taken off. Making it possible for a patient to leave the hospital. Current life expectancy of patients can vary and there is no lifelong artificial heart but, high tech innovation continues.
Innovation can also be seen using the Engineering design process. A process used by biomedical, mechanical, and electrical engineers at The University of Utah and The Texas Heart Institute in creating the artificial heart. First they knew thought that donor hearts were limited and it took time to find a match and get it delivered to the hospital. Then they thought that an artificial heart while waiting for a donor heart to arrive could work along with many different other ideas. Third they choose an artificial heart. Next, they created, built, and tested a design. They then reviewed to make sure this was the best design possible. Finally they tweaked their design based on what they learned. This process is used universally by all engineers. It took many years for the first artificial heart to be made and there was more redesigning to be done.
Heart disease is serious and biomedical, mechanical, and electrical engineers have been working to change that with artificial hearts. While improvements can be made, innovation will continue through the engineering design process.
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