‘Beating’ Heart Machine Expedites Development Of New Surgical Tools, Techniques

A machine developed at North Carolina State University in Raleigh may allow researchers to expedite development of new tools and techniques for heart surgery. The dynamic heart system pumps fluid through a pig heart so that it continues to function like a live heart even after it’s been removed from the animal’s body. The machine will allow researchers to test and refine surgical technologies in a realistic surgical environment without the cost and time associated with animal or clinical trials, its developers say.

Currently, most medical device prototypes designed for use in heart surgery are tested on live pigs, which have heart valves that are anatomically similar to human heart valves. However, the tests are expensive and time-consuming, and they involve a lengthy permission process for the use of live animals. The NC State machine enables researchers to obtain pig hearts from a pork processing facility and use the system to test prototypes or practice new surgical procedures, explains Andrew Richards, a PhD student in mechanical engineering who designed the dynamic heart system.

By using the machine, researchers can determine if concepts for new surgical tools are viable before evaluating them on live animals. They can also identify and address any functional problems. The computer-controlled machine, which operates using pressurized saline solution, also allows researchers to film the interior workings of the pumping heart, enabling them to determine which surgical technologies and techniques are best suited to repair heart valves. Research underlying the machine was published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

“There will still be a need for testing in live animal models,” says Dr. Greg Buckner, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State, who directed the project. “But this system allows researchers to do proof of concept evaluations, and refine the designs, before operating on live animals.” Using the system also could save researchers a great deal of money. Once the machine is purchased and set up, the cost of running experiments is orders of magnitude less expensive than using live animals. “It costs approximately $25 to run an experiment on the machine,” Richards says, “whereas a similar experiment using a live animal costs approximately $2,500.”

Source: Scientific Blogging

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