A ground-breaking $2,400 artificial heart inspired by the anatomy of the cockroach could revolutionize human cardiac care, scientists in India believe.
The development of a robust, affordable and safe synthetic heart remains one of the holy grails of biomedical engineering amid a shortage of donated organs and rising levels of heart disease.
The two types of artificial hearts available in the U.S. today are expensive, costing at least $50,000 apiece. Both have problems, with patients vulnerable to infections and strokes, experts say.
Sujoy Guha, a biomedical engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, believes that the most critical problems are a result of artificial hearts attempting to mimic the real thing.
The human heart has four chambers, but only the left ventricle is responsible for building the pressure that moves blood around the body. Depending on one chamber to do the hard work places this part of an artificial heart under enormous strain.
In contrast, Guha's prosthetic heart builds pressure in stages, through five chambers — a model based on the anatomy of a cockroach. He has been working on his prototype heart, which is made from titanium and plastic and runs on batteries that can be recharged from outside the body, since the early 1960s.
The heart of the cockroach has 13 chambers, which build pressure in a series of steps. If one fails, the animal continues living. "When I was learning my biology I became fascinated by the cockroach," Guha told the Times of London. "It is hardy [and] survives extreme conditions. It came into this world before humans and will survive beyond us."