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Experts urge funding for artificial heart.

A panel of health-care experts last week advised the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to continue funding research on two types of artificial hearts. These battery-powered devices, designed to assist or replace a failing human heart, might help an estimated 70,000 U.S. patients annually who would otherwise die of heart failure, the 16-member panel concludes.

The panel's report culminates a year-long investigation commissioned by NHLBI as a guide for making funding decisions on the "total artificial heart" (TAH), an experimental device intended as a replacement for the human heart.

In 1988, NHLBI officials suspended funding for TAH research and decided to concentrate instead on the "ventricular assist device" (VAD), a mechanical pump that helps the heart's lower chambers function despite damage from a heart attack or other ailment. While the new report notes the importance of VAD research and development, it also endorses the TAH approach, pointing out that many people, especially those with severe heart failure, need more pumping assistance than the VAD can provide.

Although artificial hearts will not replace heart transplants in the near future, the panel notes that many people die while waiting for a donor heart to become available, and that artificial hearts may provide such patients with a reasonable alternative that might extend their lives.

Barriers to a cost-effective artificial heart remain formidable, however. For example, scientists must find a way to prevent clots that form when blood comes in contact with the synthetic material - a serious problem that can lead to a stroke. In addition, the panel expresses concern about access to this expensive technology, noting that at least 30 million people in the United States lack adequate health insurance.
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Title Annotation:National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 3, 1991
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