Plastic heart beats for three days, kicks off revolution

Artificial Heart

The first plastic heart was the predecessor to this Jarvick-7 artificial heart pump. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Smithsonian Institution has millions of items in its vaults that many never get to see. On Monday, in honor of Valentine’s Day, the Smithsonian released a picture of the first plastic heart. This artificial heart beat for three days before being replaced by a human heart.

History of the plastic heart that beat for three days

The first plastic heart ever to be implanted in a human being was installed in 1969. The plastic heart was developed by Dr. Domingo Liotta and implanted by Dr. Denton A. Cooley. Dr. Cooley commandeered the plastic heart from Dr. Liotta’s lab and implanted it without approval. The patient’s plastic heart beat for three days before a human transplant heart was found. Despite the human heart, the patient died, but the plastic heart kicked off a plastic heart revolution. The plastic heart itself is in the Smithsonian Institution, which released a picture of it to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.

Development of plastic heart transplants

Though the first “plastic” heart was implanted in 1969, it was not until 2004 that the FDA approved a plastic heart implant. The Jarvick-7 was the first viable plastic heart transplant that beat for a long period of time, and it was developed in 1982. The plastic heart that was approved in 2004 is used as a temporary replacement until a human heart can be found for transplant. In 2006, the FDA approved a permanent plastic heart transplant, the AbioCor Implantable Replacement Heart. Currently, plastic hearts can only be supported with 13-pound devices carried in a backpack and costs $18,000 a year to maintain.

Is a self-contained plastic heart possible?

The dream of a plastic heart that started in 1969 has still not come to full fruition. Though plastic hearts that keep a person alive are now available, they require maintenance and heavy equipment to be kept very close. There are researchers working on an entirely self-contained artificial heart, but with more than 30 years between the first plastic heart beating for three days and a 13-pound-backpack-supported heart, it may decades before something more self-contained is possible.

Sources

Smithsonian
New York Times
American Heart Association

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