Renowned French surgeon Alain Carpentier successfully transplanted what he calls the “world’s first fully artificial, self-regulating heart” into a 75-year old man on Wednesday. This extraordinary artificial heart mimics muscle contractions and contains sensors that adapt the blood flow to a patient’s movement. “If your loved one came through the door, it would start to beat faster, just like a real one,” says Carpentier. The surgeon hopes his artificial heart can be used to bridge chronic organ donor shortages.

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Made from a range of “biomaterials” that include bovine tissue, the heart is less likely to produce blood clots, and also much less likely to be rejected by the host. The current model took 30 years to develop, and is powered by external lithium batteries. It is expected to keep a patient alive for up to five years – which could completely remove the need for a donor heart.

Even though it’s similar in size to a regular heart, the artificial one weighs three times as much, and is incompatible with 14 percent of men, and 80 percent of women. There are plans for a smaller model though, which would make the heart accessible to a much larger proportion of the population. The expected cost is $190,000 to $220,000, about the same as the current cost of a traditional heart transplant.

It’s still very early days for both the artificial heart and the transplant patient, but the Carmat heart has been approved for testing in three more French patients.

“It’s about giving patients a normal social life with the least dependence on medication as possible,” Carpentier told the Telegraph.

Initial trials will determine whether patients can survive for at least a month with the artificial heart; if successful, people who receive them may be able to live a relatively autonomous life just like traditional transplant patients.

Via USA Today

Images by Carmat