More than ten million people in Europe suffer from heart failure, Empa explains in a press release. Most of these people require a heart transplant. In order to bridge the waiting time before transplantation, artificial heart pumps are used. However, this can lead to blood clots, which could result in a stroke. Moreover, immune reactions can develop as the body may reject the foreign material.
As part of the Zurich Heart project, which was launched by Zurich University Hospital together with the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) under the umbrella of University Medicine Zurich, researchers are working on the further development of currently available heart pumps in addition to completely new solutions. The overarching aim is to develop an implantable artificial heart.
The researchers are currently working on around ten subprojects as part of Zurich Heart, as detailed by Empa in its press release. Empa researchers are making progress in several areas. For example, they have uncovered the possibility of manufacturing a surface upon which the body's own endothelial cells can settle. When an artificial heart pump is fitted with this kind of tissue surface, it can trick the blood into believing that it is not an artificial organ but a real heart instead. The method has proven successful, with researchers able to confirm both in vitro and in vivo viability. Nevertheless, it requires further development so that the entire inner surface of the pump can be coated.
The press release explains how, in the next phase, Empa intends to translate other solutions developed within the framework of Zurich Heart into clinically relevant products. However, this could take several years. For this reason, no time limit has been applied to Zurich Heart.