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First tests of heart-assist device

April 23, 2009 | 11:03 am

A West Virginia man and another in Ohio have become the first U.S. patients fitted with a new device to assist a weakened heart in moving blood around the body. The device, called C-Pulse, is designed to assist the pumping action of the heart in patients with moderate heart failure who have not been helped by treatment with drugs or other devices. Such patients typically suffer from shortness of breath and fatigue during mild exercise, usually as a result of a heart attack or infection.

"The concept of this therapy is to improve blood supply to the body and heart muscle to avoid further progression of the disease," said Dr. Benjamin Sun of Ohio State University's Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital, co-leader of the safety trials.

The C-Pulse, developed by Sunshine Heart Inc. of Tustin, wraps around the aorta much like a blood pressure cuff wraps around the arm. A balloon inside the cuff inflates to push blood out of the aorta and deflates to allow more blood to enter. A sensor wire connected to the heart muscle coordinates the contractions with the beating of the heart. Because the device never comes in contact with blood, complications are minimized, Sun said.

The device is implanted during open-chest surgery, and patients generally go home within a few days, he said. The C-Pulse had previously been implanted in five patients in Europe and Australia, and no ill effects have been observed, according to the company.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II