Saturday, October 3, 2009

Coming Soon: The Man With the Heart of a Cockroach

"Cockroach inspires £1,500 heart created by Indian doctor Sujoy Guha"
TimesOnline (October 3, 2009)

"A ground-breaking £1,500 artificial heart inspired by the anatomy of the cockroach could revolutionise 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.

"In Britain, critically ill adults wait an average of 103 days and children 143 days for a donated heart, according to the NHS.

"In India, heart disease will end more lives per year than all infectious illnesses combined, including diarrhoea, tuberculosis and malaria, by 2015, World Health Organisation figures suggest, as Western lifestyle diseases take a grip...."

Artificial hearts are available - but they're expensive and tend to break down.

Dr. Guha thinks this is because so far, we've tried to copy the four-chambered heart used by birds and mammals.

Although Dr. Guha and the article stress how the design in humans relies mostly on the left ventricle to provide pressure for the circulatory system - putting a great deal of stress on that component - the four-chambered heart works pretty well, keeping oxygenated and unoxygenated blood from mixing.

Anyway, Dr. Guha's heart is based on the relatively fail-safe heart used in cockroaches. The cockroach heart has thirteen chambers, each of which raises blood pressure a little bit. With that sort of multiple redundancy, one chamber can fail and the cockroach goes on eating and making more cockroaches.

Dr. Guha's applied the 'little bit at a time' principle to develop a five-chambered heart that he says will work more reliably than current models.

I trust that he studied the plumbing - I'm all for a less expensive, more reliable artificial heart, but the thing is going to have to work in a system that's set up for the old four-chamber model.

I'm sure he thought of that.

For some reason, I've got "The Cockroach that Ate Cincinnati" running through my head just now. I gotta get more sleep tonight.

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