Jefferson Surgical Solutions


Could congestive heart failure (CHF) be treated with a total artificial heart that contains just two moving parts?

That’s one of the questions that cardiac surgeon, Vakhtang Tchantchaleishvili, MD, and biomedical engineer Amy L. Throckmorton, PhD, an associate professor at the Drexel University School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, are collaborating to answer.

Known as “Dragon Heart,” the device they are testing is an advanced cardiac assist and replacement technology designed and developed by Dr. Throckmorton, who is currently on sabbatical at Jefferson. She and Dr. Tchantchaleishvili are part of a national team that in July 2020 secured a four-year, $1.5 million research grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute within the National Institutes of Health to support this pre-clinical development phase.

If proven effective, the Dragon Heart would offer a compact, multi-functional total artificial heart that could help both adult and pediatric patients with CHF. To do so, it relies on two moving parts: an axial impeller for pulmonary circulation and a centrifugal impeller for systemic circulation.

CHF is a costly disease in terms of human and financial impact. This progressive and debilitating disease affects about 5.1 million people in the United States alone, with about 670,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Treating patients with CHF costs the healthcare industry more than $35 billion annually, and existing treatments, including transplantation, are not always available or effective for all patients.

“My vision of the Dragon Heart has been to provide as much versatility as possible in giving clinical management teams the ability to offer the right treatment for the right patient at the right time,” says Dr. Throckmorton, who used pump design equations, computational modeling, and benchtop prototype testing to inform device design and performance.

The Dragon Heart has been designed to support the left or right side of the heart, to partially support both ventricles, or to fully support both ventricles as a total artificial heart, providing a viable alternative to heart transplantation. Dr. Tchantchaleishvili puts it even more succinctly – referring to the Dragon Heart as “the Batmobile of cardiac assist and replacement technologies.”

Dr. Tchantchaleishvili says the device is also noteworthy because of its use of full magnetic levitation technology, one of most recent innovations in cardiac replacement technology.

“The Dragon Heart is one of only three total artificial hearts that are continuous-flow devices,” he says. “This device also supports pulsatile flow, adding to its clinical versatility.”

While at Jefferson, Dr. Throckmorton is continuing to build prototypes of the Dragon Heart and is working with Dr. Tchantchaleishvili, H. Todd Massey, MD, Surgical Director, Cardiac Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support, and others to prepare for additional studies of the device’s efficacy.

“I’m thankful to be collaborating with Dr. Tchantchaleishvili and his team to complete the critical acute testing studies in animals,” Dr. Throckmorton says. “These are a necessary step toward achieving successful translation of the Dragon Heart blood pump technology. His research team at Jefferson is ideally suited to lead and conduct these animal studies.”

For more information, please visit: Research.Jefferson.edu/labs/researcher/tchantchaleishvili-laboratory.html