Study: New Heart Pumps Longer-Lasting, More Effective Than Earlier Models

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July 19th, 2019

The Heartmate 3 (Photo: 7asmin/Wikimedia Commons)

At any given time, about 3,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a heart transplant, according to the Mayo Clinic. The process often takes months. Some on the waiting list die before they can receive a donor heart.

But the final results of a study published this April in the New England Journal of Medicine about a new model of heart pumps showed that these pumps last longer and perform better than earlier models.

“Some of the interim analyses suggested that there was going to be an advantage with this pump,” says Dr. John Um, University of Nebraska Medical Center director of cardiac transplantation. “But the final result was just published, and what it showed was that there was an advantage to the Heartmate 3 over the previous generation Heartmate II.”

Um co-authored the study along with colleague Dr. Brian Lowes. UNMC was one of several institutions nationwide that took part in the study, conducted over two years starting in September 2014.

In a news release from UNMC, Lowes said the results in patients with the Abbott Heartmate 3 model are nearly the same as a transplant. Given the waiting period for a new heart, more patients in need of a transplant may opt for a heart pump, especially in the interim.

The Heartmate 3 is magnetically-levitated with a centrifugal flow, designed to prevent pump thrombosis, a life-threatening complication of previous, mechanical-bearing models. It is a left-ventricular assist device (LVAD), which serves a different function than pacemakers or defibrillators and often is used as a bridge to transplantation.

“So these pumps actually physically pump blood around the body, as opposed to a pacemaker, which tells the heart when to beat,” Um explains. “This physically displaces blood, and allows the heart to work less hard than it otherwise might need to, to keep a person going.”

In the study, a higher percentage of patients with the Heartmate 3 remained alive and did not suffer a disabling stroke or need to replace the device when compared to patients with the Heartmate II, a mechanical-bearing, axial-flow model.

When considering pump thrombosis, clots caused by the pump, the differences became even more pronounced. Researchers found significantly fewer instances of the complication in Heartmate 3 patients than in patients with the older model.

Heart pumps can be costly, with the expense increasing if other complications, such as infection, arise. Um says that research in the immediate future will likely be geared toward reducing these complications.

“These pumps have a drive line that come out of the body. And that’s a weak point in these pumps in that they require a lot of energy to maintain. And so these drive lines can become infected, and then the pumps consequently become infected,” he says.

“So for instance, the next push might be to have pumps that are powered wirelessly. That would then remove the drive line and potentially mitigate the risk of getting infected.”

The Heartmate 3 is now available for patients at UNMC.

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