Cardiac Power [Prosthetic Hearts of Your Nightmares]

I’ve misplaced the exact citation for this article, but it’s from Look magazine, and it appeared in the mid to late 60s. I realize these sorts of inventions had to occur before we could less horrifying replacement hearts, but wow.  The dog’s wire-coil powered headlamp kind of reminds me of  Iron Man, but I really have no frame of reference for the atomic heart. How would that work? Would you just walk around with these giant tubes sticking out, and carry the little “nuclear steam engine” around like some sort of weird colostomy bag?

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Cardiac Power

Festooned with compressed air lines and monitoring and control equipment, but showing no signs of suffering, the fully conscious calf at far right was kept alive for 31 hours with the Kolff replacement in lieu of its own heart.

So confident are medical researchers in the feasibility of heart replacement that the U.S. government has launched a crash program to subsidize the development by industry of an implantable heart that could be put into human patients within five years. The key word is implantable, and the chances are that it will not be powered by the compressed air that contributes to the clutter of hardware on the calf. The dog below and the human skeleton at right demonstrate two of many current attempts to develop more convenient power sources. The dog’s light, which uses as much power as an artificial heart, is activated by a wire coil inside its chest which is stimulated by eletromagnetic energy. This comes from coils surrounding the dog’s enclosure-and could also come from a portable power pack. The skeleton is fitted out with a Kolff heart and a demonstration mock-up of an implantable nuclear steam engine. Other power sources under study include hydraulics (and implantable electro-hydraulic heart has worked in a calf) and a biological fuel cell which would use chemical reactions within the body to generate electricity.

In a University of Missouri laboratory, this dog wears a light powered by an induction coil inside it’s chest. A similar arrangement could power an implanted heart without discomfort to its wearer. The skeleton wears a plastic mock-up of an atomic power pack being developed by the Thermo Electron Corp. The actual pack would contain a radioactive isotope which would generate steam to drive a piston, sending impulses to the heart. The oscilloscope superimposed by multiple exposure on the picture at right shows the calf’s blood pressure.


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