ISRO scientists through a revolutionary technology may be able to help patients who are in need for a heart transplant. Materials and mechanisms used on Indian rockets have been tweaked by ISRO to make a device which some describe as a step towards the making of an ‘artificial heart’.
The heart assist device has been tested on animals and found to be successful. Better known for orbiting satellites and flying giant rockets, the multi-talented team at ISRO made this heart pump as a spinoff technology development in the spare time. Cardiologists are very excited with this development as it offers a lease of life to terminally-ill patients since heart transplant still remains out of reach for most. (Also read. ISRO's revolutionary gel to keep Indian soldiers warm in freezing temperatures of Siachen)
Using materials and knowhow perfected to make lightweight rockets and satellites, scientists at ISRO have perfected a device that assists the human heart to pump blood especially in cases where the left ventricle, the most powerful part of a human heart, starts to fail. Called the ‘left ventricular assist device’ this small electrical device can pump 3-5 litres of blood every minute. Kiran Kumar, the chairman of ISRO said this rocket technology offered an alternate system to pump blood in very ill patients and can definitely save human lives.
The special pump made by the Indian space agency can also be powered using an indigenously made highly energy dense battery, the Lithium Ion cell, that has also for the first time been made in India again by another team of rocket scientists. The pump, which weighs about 100 grams can be fitted inside the body or placed externally and it needs a hook up to a battery to power it. (Also read. Manufacture and fly PSLV: ISRO offers private companies to build rockets)
Made from a special alloy of titanium the device is ‘bio-compatible’ says K Sivan, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC), in Thiruvananthapuram where the special heart pump has been mastered. Rocket scientists at VSSC use titanium alloys for making rocket engines and satellite components as a consequence they have total mastery on the metallurgy and manufacturing of the material. The same material that is flown on rocket engines has been remodeled to make the compact but high tech pump.
The rocket scientists say the cost differential is so large simply because the expertise and the materials already existed at VSSC and all they had to do was to assemble the right team of specialists that included metallurgists, electronics engineers, specialists on flow mechanics and designers who worked alongside cardiologists to come up with a suitable design. It took a team of about two dozen specialists about six years and after many permutation and combination, they came up with the right design. (Also read. ISRO-NASA collaborate for NISAR satellite to study climate change and earthquakes)
“It is a complicated device to make and this is an exciting development,” says Balram Bhargava, Professor of Cardiology, and Executive Director, Stanford India Biodesign Centre, School of International Biodesign, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi who confirms that no one in India has till date to the best of his knowledge designed indigenously a left ventricular assist device, adding that it is an important bridge for patients awaiting a heart transplant.
Bhargava cautions that the device is to be used only in very specific medical circumstances. Interestingly VSSC has also very recently developed high value Lithium Ion battery which could now be used to power the heart pump. India has all along been importing these Lithium ion cells but recently Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari mandated ISRO to master this technology so that it can be used to power zero pollution electric vehicles. Sivan says VSSC will try to miniaturise these Lithium Ion cells which can hopefully power the left ventricular assist device. (Also read. PM hails ISRO's successful launch of navigation satellite IRNSS-1F)