2018-02-14 / Featured / News

New technology aims to improve heart treatments


This month has a couple of things going for it, and candy hearts are one. But since 1964, February has also been American Heart Month, a time when Americans are reminded to take their cardiac health seriously. This issue, the Observer has a finger on the pulse of new heart technologies debuting locally. From stem cell research to devices that aid in blood pumping and transplants, there’s lots for a heart to love.

“Heart in a box” and artificial hearts

A “heart in a box” might sound like something from a horror movie, but it’s actually a way to make long-distance transplants more viable.

Within the next six months, Virginia Commonwealth University will begin a research study using the TransMedics Organ Care System to transport donor organs for heart transplants. The device is nicknamed the “heart in a box” for its jaw-dropping appearance.

“Traditionally if you watch movies, people procure organs from donors and put them on ice and have a limited amount of time to transport them,” said Dr. Keyur Shah, chief of the heart failure section at VCU Medical Center’s Division of Cardiology. “[Using the Organ Care System], you can connect the organ to this device and keep it active without hibernating it, without paralyzing it. … The videos [of this device] are eye-popping. You basically see a heart being transported inside of a [clear] chamber and being transported over a long distance, beating the entire time.

“These organ transportation devices are going to allow donors to give their organs to recipients that may be very far away,” Shah continued. “The idea is to expand the number of available organ donors so more transplants can take place.”

VCU will also be one of the preliminary U.S. medical centers to use CARMAT, the first biocompatible, auto-regulated artificial heart with right and left ventricles. The CARMAT’s debut at VCU should occur sometime next year.

Blood-pumping assist

The Bon Secours heart team is now offering the HeartMate 3 left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to heart failure patients. An LVAD helps the heart pump blood through the body and provides a stopgap for patients awaiting more advanced treatment, such as a heart transplant.

“The HeartMate 3 LVAD is a magnetically levitated centrifugal pump that has been engineered to reduce shear stress on the blood cells and prevent blood clot formation,” explained Dr. Roberta Bogaev, medical director of the Bon Secours Advanced Heart Failure and Circulatory Support Center. “The HeartMate 3 LVAD is also smaller and easier for the surgeon to implant.”

Bon Secours previously used the HeartMate II. In a recent study, patients receiving the HeartMate 3 showed significant improvement in their functioning. There was an 83 percent increase in how far patients could walk without triggering symptoms like shortness of breath, and a 68 percent improvement in quality of life after six months with the device.

Stem cell study

Stem cell transplants are gaining popularity in various medical specialties. At VCU, “Dr. Zachary Gertz is conducting a study where patients with ischemic heart disease can come in and have their own stem cells drawn out of their bone marrow, processed and reinjected into their heart into areas where there is sick or dying tissue,” Shah said. “It’s using your own stem cells to hopefully regenerate or heal parts of your sick heart.”

This study is currently recruiting patients who have heart failure caused by heart attack or blockages. Call 804-628- 4327 for more information.

New pharmaceuticals

VCU researchers are also testing several new heart failure medications.

“After having several decades of lack of progress, in the last few years we’ve seen new meds approved for heart failure,” Shah said. “We see a lot of promise coming down the pipeline with these clinical trials, and a lot of opportunities for patients with cardiomyopathies to participate in a trial, if that’s what they want to do, but also to have access to these medications which have had early promising results.”

New arrhythmia center

The Bon Secours Heart and Vascular Institute recently opened a new center to treat arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm. The condition can cause sudden fluttering or pounding of the heart, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and other symptoms.

The new arrhythmia center will be co-located at St. Francis Medical Center in Midlothian and Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville. Both locations have state-of-the-art electrophysiology labs capable of producing three-dimensional images of the heart. Using advanced imaging, cardiologists can create detailed maps of the heart and identify the origin of arrhythmia. ¦

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