Imagine building a car engine which had to run faultlessly for 50 years or more, could never be turned off, must maintain a consistent ultra-reliable 3000rpm, must never overheat (a tolerance of zero degrees), and could never be serviced. Despite 100 years of automotive technology development, it’s unlikely that this could be achieved – now consider the requirements for artificial human heart technology. Yet Ventracor is currently trialling an implantable heart assist device which does just that.
Trials are underway and CE mark approval is expected within 18 months, giving the company a commercially available product by the end of 2005.
In order for CE mark approval Ventracor must prove that its implantable left ventricular assist device will run for half a century at 3000 rpm with one moving part, no contact, no wear, no friction, no heat, no blood damage and it can never be taken out for a service.
Ventracor is one of sveral significant competitors engaged in a race to market for this type of technology because there is a massive latent market for heart assist devices.
Consider just the United States marketplace where 4.8 million people are suffering heart failure at any given time. Every year 500,000 new heart failure cases occur.
Having a heart attack is not as fatal as it once was - people are now routinely surviving several heart attacks, but eventually the heart cannot go on and fails.
There are 60,000 direct deaths from the 4.8 million each year, of which only 2000 have been able to find a donor to enable a heart transplant. Worldwide there are only 3500 heart transplants a year – there is a large and growing population of people who need a heart transplant but can’t get one.
Heart failure deaths increased 420% from 1968 to 1993 in the United States and the current US expenditure on heart failure is US$29 billion per annum.
Independent analysts indicate the world market value for heart assist systems could top US$7 billion within five years and many times that figure a decade later. The prevalence of heart failure on a global scale has been estimated at between 10 million people per year and 23 million people per year.