children heart diseases
children heart diseasesReuters

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has infused hope in children born with only one heart ventricle by developing a heart pump using its flywheel technology.

The NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), March 8, shared a heart pump motor animation video, which shows how a heart pump motor, can work to help children born with one heart ventricle live into adulthood.

"When children are born with half a heart, they need medical intervention," the Glenn scientists said.

NASA's heart pump motor is a brainchild of Mark Rodefeld, a pediatric heart surgeon at Indiana University, who collaborated with the engineers at NASA, GRC to develop a bi-conical heart pump.

A team of engineers at Glenn spent two years designing, building and testing a functional prototype of the bi-conical heart pump, NASA said in a statement.

"Unlike conventional motors, the outside rotor of this pump spins around the inside, which allows for complex fluid pump shapes to be created on the surface of the rotor," said David Avanesian, a systems engineer and project manager at NASA, GRC.

He further said the shapes created, then grab the blood coming from the body and head, mix it, and then direct it to the lungs for oxygenation.

Rodefeld said nearly 1,500 children are born every year with a missing ventricle and this heart condition accounts for one-fifth of the most common heart diseases. He said the body of people born with only one ventricle misses half of its pumping ability to oxygenate blood and stay alive. "Currently, the best solution is a heart transplant, however, it is a limited option due to donor availability and short-term success," he said.

Fontan procedure, which requires three open-heart surgeries to create a passive circulation network, is a partial fix, according to the Indiana University-based cardiac surgeon. The children who undergo this procedure survive, but eventually inefficiency in circulation due to low pumping pressure catches up with them in their early adulthood as the remaining part of the heart gets worn out from doing all the work.

Rodefeld said he eventually came up with an idea to insert a small conical pump, driven by an electrical motor, into an existing Fontan network.

"This pump would reproduce the pressures and flow coming from the body and head, reducing the wear and tear on the single remaining ventricle and extend the life of the patient." he added.

He said he took the help of NASA's engineers to design the bi-conical motor and scale it to size.

Rodefeld said while the size of the motor has been scaled down significantly, engineers need to make it even smaller to fit into the Fontan circulation architecture. "Further development would help scale the motor down to the required diameter — the size of a nickel," he said.

Video Credits: NASA Glenn Research Center