Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the first successful permanent artificial heart has had a change of heart. He tells IEEE Spectrum that diseased hearts should only rarely be replaced with mechanical ones. Instead, most just need some help pumping until they can recover. He has developed a new pump to do just that, and it's barely a tenth the weight of competing products. He expects such heart-assist devices to become as commonplace as pacemakers.
Jarvik's company, New York City-based Jarvik Heart Inc., is now gearing up for a U.S. Food and Drug Administration trial of its ventricular-assist device, the Jarvik 2000 Flowmaker. Implanted in one of the two ventricles of the heart—compartments that pump blood out of the heart—a ventricular-assist device helps a patient's natural heart pump blood. In the United States they are used as temporary implants until a donor heart can be found, although they've been used as permanent implants in Europe. In fact, the first person to get the Jarvik 2000 implant, now the longest-surviving patient supported by any type of artificial heart, will have had the implant five years in June. More important for patients, the Jarvik 2000 is light as a feather compared with competitors. It's the size of a C battery and weighs just 90 grams, as opposed to its rivals, which weigh at least 1000 grams. Spectrum's Prachi Patel Predd recently spoke with Jarvik about his new device and about the state of artificial heart technology in the United States.