The US Food and Drug Administration has given permission for a US biotechnology company to conduct a unique trial involving the implantation of metal hearts in a handful of critically ill patients.
Massachusetts-based Abiomed has developed the heart, called AbioCor, which is made of titanium and plastic and is about the size of a grapefruit. Abiomed's vice-president of external relations, Ed Berger, said: "As far as we know, it will be the first time an implantable artificial heart has been tried in a clinical study".
Currently in the US, 100,000 critically ill patients would benefit from a heart transplant each year. But only about 2,000 hearts are donated annually for operations. Berger commented: "Hospitals want to use the hearts available as frugally and effectively as possible — which means they tend to be reserved for the healthiest people. People who are older, or have other medical conditions, often lose out."
Although Abiomed has not put an exact price on the hearts, Berger said that the company is aiming to make a transplant with the artificial heart no more expensive than an operation involving a human heart.