A miniature ‘egg whisk’ pump has been pioneered by a British doctor to help the heart pump blood round the body during life-saving surgery. The pump, which rotates faster than a high-speed food blender, allows patients with weak hearts to have an artery unblocked without the risk of kidney failure or cardiac arrest.
More than 100,000 patients undergo artery-clearing angioplasty every year, but many remain at high risk of serious complications because of problems pumping blood.
But now Professor Martin Rothman, a cardiologist based at the London Chest Hospital, has completed the first human trials of the revolutionary procedure, according to The Times.
The whisk, called the Reitan catheter pump, is inserted via a catheter in a tube via the femoral artery in the groin and manoeuvred up to the aorta, where it folds out to form a plastic cage encasing two stainless steel propeller blades of about 8mm in length.
Once switched on the device rotates at up to 12,000rpm, enhancing the pumping action of the heart by drawing blood down from the aorta to the arteries. This keeps vital organs, such as the kidneys, working as the patient undergoes angioplasty.
Professor Rothman told The Times that the device effectively “unloaded the heart”, reducing the risk of heart attack, kidney failure and cardiogenic shock – when reduced blood flow causes multi-organ malfunction.
He said: “This technology offers real opportunity for sick patients to undergo a very important procedure — patients who, were you to blow a balloon up in their arteries, would otherwise likely be pushed over the edge.
“The pump is incredibly powerful — if you stuck it in a bucket of water it looks like the whole thing is boiling. It helps people with heart failure survive this procedure better and with less risk.”
To date, the British doctor, who works in Barts and the London NHS Trust, has carried out 17 procedures, with published data on the first ten.
While a pump would cost about £1,000, and can be used for only one procedure, the savings of preventing a patient from ending up on kidney dialysis are substantial. Three days on dialysis would cost about £10,000.
The procedure was broadcast live on Wednesday to a key conference in San Francisco attended by 10,000 cardiologists.
A representative for Barts and The London NHS Trust, which includes the London Chest Hospital, said that it fully supported Professor Rothman’s work.
“The trust is committed to providing first class clinical care to all its patients. Our support of cutting-edge research work such as the Reitan Catheter Pump System, is just one example of our ongoing work to help patients to live better, fuller and longer lives.”