A British cardic team working with the Texas Heart Institute has implanted
a permanent artificial electric heart into a 64-year-old Britisher who had been
given six months to live. The artificial heart, made by Thermo Cardio Systems,
Woburn, MA, consists of an electrically driven pump that runs on two 1.5-pound
batteries. It works alongside the patient's heart, helping to pump blood. The
titanium disc-shaped pump, the size of a man's palm, was fitted into the
patient's abdominal cavity and connected to the left ventricle of the heart by a
short hose. The batteries connect to the pump by a tube through the stomach.
They can be worn at the waist or in an under-arm holster. In the U.S., where the
device was designed, the artificial heart is permitted for use only temporarily
while a patient waits for a heart transplant. Because of the shortage of human
donors and the cost, people over age 60 are not eligible for heart transplants
through Britain's state-funded National Health Service. FAX Marc Mattsson at
New Jarvik miniature heart pump under development
Meanwhile, the Texas Heart Institute in Houston has developed a small, valveless blood pump that could become an alternative to heart transplants. No bigger than a "C" battery and weighing just over three ounces, the pump is the brainchild of Robert Jarvik, a biomedical and artificial heart pioneer. O.H. Frasier, director of surgical research at the Institute teamed with Jarvik on the project. Frazier terms the device "simple technology," adding it requires no valves and minimal energy input. The Ventricular Assist System (VAS) can generate up to 12 liters per minute of blood flow--a human heart pumps five-to-seven liters of blood per minute at rest. It includes two one-hour internal batteries, weighing only 90 grams, that can be recharged more than 4,000 times. Together with all internal electronics, the VAS can be implanted within two prosthetic ribs. Continued development will take place under a five-year, $5.8 million federal contract. Partners in the design include Transicoil Inc., Valley Forge, PA, and Bell Communications Research, Red Bank, NJ. FAX Marc Mattsson at (713) 791-3089.
Other heart-pump designs also in the works
In yet another project, researchers at Penn State's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center will invest up to five years and $3.2 million in an attempt to develop the "next generation" of permanent, electric heart-assist pumps. The contract, awarded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, "will allow us to use new technologies to evaluate new electronics and materials and make improvements on the current model," says Gerson Rosenberg, research professor of surgery and chief of artificial organs. The Hershey researchers have been working with Arrow International to take the current version of the electric left ventricle assist device (LVAD) through the FDA approval process and into general clinical use. Powered by rechargeable batteries, the current device lasts about two years; the new LVAD should last for five. If approved, the heart-assist pump would serve as a permanent LVAD version for patients who have heart failure affecting the left side of the heart, but don't need a transplant or total artificial heart. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Optical probe provides instant cervical cancer screening
Instead of waiting weeks and undergoing added tests to confirm the results of an abnormal Pap smear, women may soon have a chance to get the results instantly. A fiber-optic device now under test at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston provides such immediate and noninvasive detection. Abnormal Pap smears lead to a colposcopic examination, which involves the use of a magnifying device to examine the cervix. The new test would allow colposcopy and treatment to be conducted in the same office visit, if abnormalities are detected. Lifespex has the device under development through a cooperative research and development agreement with Sandia National Laboratories. The Lifespex probe uses "fluorescene spectroscopy" to detect the abnormal cells on the outside of the cervix in seconds. Optical fibers at the end of a small probe illuminate the tissue and collect the fluorescent light generated. Precancerous cells will fluoresce differently than healthy tissue. FAX Julie Clausen at (508) 844-6367.
Laser 'acupuncture' tackles Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) has become the most common cumulative trauma disorder in the U.S., costing industry an estimated $20 billion a year. In an effort to treat this ailment non-invasively, Lasermedics, Inc., Missouri City, TX, has developed the Microlight 830 laser therapy for Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI). The non-thermal laser penetrates deep into tissue. Once delivered, the light energy promotes the process of photobiostimulation. The positive effect of this process is analogous to photosynthesis in plant cells, whereby a chain of chemical reactions is set in motion. In human tissue, the resulting photochemical reaction produces an increase in the cellular metabolism rate, which expedites cell repair and the stimulation of the immune, lymphatic, and vascular systems. The net result: apparent reduction in pain, inflammation, edema, and an overall reduction in healing time. Lasermedics has been awarded two patents on the device, with FDA approval expected shortly, according to Lasermedics' Mike Barbour. FAX (713) 261-5079.
Mechanics of hearing opens new directions in acoustic research
George Zweig of the Los Alamos National Laboratory thinks he knows why the ear whistles. His theory of the mechanics of hearing has opened new directions in acoustic research that could lead to better hearing aids, improvements in the technology of cochlear implants, and further development of speech-recognition machines. Zweig's work led to the discovery of the continuous wavelet transform. He describes it as a way of defining a set of acoustic units that are quarks, the smallest building blocks of matter. Using his wave equation, Zweig has predicted that, under certain circumstances, the ear creates distinct kinds of sound in response to sound. For example, wave energy not transferred to the middle ear is reflected again and amplified, combining with the original wave. The result: common ringing in the ear. Such otoacoustic emission can determine the mechanical state of the ear, or the extent of hearing loss, even in infants who cannot respond verbally to standard hearing tests. FAX Gary Kliewer at (505) 665-2085, e-mail email@example.com .
Joint endeavor brings cellular telephony to hearing impaired
Motorola has joined with Phoenix Management, Fountain, CO, to modify several of its cellular telephones for use with the Phoenix's Hatis™ (Hearing Aid Telephone Interconnect System) device. When affixed to a phone's audio interface, Hatis enables many hearing disabled persons to use a telephone--some for the very first time. Those who are hearing impaired or deaf can use the device on Motorola's MicroTAC Elite™ personal cellular phone and several transportable models via their hearing aid with a t-coil. The Hatis system is patent pending and in the manufacturing stage. Phoenix Management's Jo Waldron, who is deaf, and Shirley Crouch, who is hard of hearing, came up with the concept out of frustration at not being able to use telephones. FAX David Pinsky at (708) 523-8770.
Software technology uncovers potential new drugs
3-Dimensional Pharmaceuticals (3DP) Inc., Exton, PA, has patented the use of semi-automated and automated feedback control for generating chemical compounds and refining their properties. Called DirectedDiversity®, the software system involves a computer-based way to generate chemical entities with desired physical, chemical, or biological characteristics. The patent also covers "the chemical entities produced by this system." Where discovering standard "combinatorial" chemical libraries tends to be a needles-in-a-haystack approach, any discovery using the DirectedDiversity chemical library is focused and directed, explains 3DP's Scott Horvitz. 3DP scientists are already using it to discover and refine drugs active against a wide range of targets, such as receptors and enzymes known to be implicated in cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer. The company intends to license the technology to a select number of major pharmaceutical companies. FAX (610) 458-8249.
Surface treatment enhances performance of diagnostic devices
Spire Corp., Bedford, MA, has introduced a process to reduce biofouling on the surface of polymeric components of in vitro diagnostics assay devices that come into contact with blood and body fluids. The surface treatment, called Spi-Polymer™, is applied to most any type or size of assay devices using an ion implantation technology. The process results in a permanently modified, more hydrophilic surface that reduces blood cell and plasma protein adherence, as well as air bubble formation, while eliminating static charge. "It's a reliable, cost-effective way to treat diagnostic trays and cassettes, filter media, microtiter plates, and blood-collection tubes," says Ray D'Argento, a biomaterials application engineer at Spire. FAX (617) 275-7470.
Genetics and criminal behavior don't necessarily correlate
Popular interpretations of recent books like The Bell Curve have helped brainwash the public into believing that a gene or genes are responsible for such social behaviors and personality traits as criminality and violence. Garland E. Allen, a biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, sees a danger in linking genetics to such behavior. The reason: "Genetics studies from the 19th century to present are seriously flawed," he says. "History shows that every time scientists try to explain social problems by simplistic biological models, the outcome is a disaster." Biological markers, similar to changes in the enzyme monoamine oxidase, could provide a better way to study these gene/criminality associations, Allen feels. "Because genes are known to produce enzymes, such sophisticated findings, made available by rapid developments in neurochemistry, should make the heritability of criminality more clear-cut," Allen believes. FAX Tony Fitzpatrick at (314) 935-4259.