Artificial heart patient dies

The first patient to be fitted with a pioneering artificial heart in France has died.

The 76-year-old man, who has not been named, died 75 days after the operation in Paris.

The bioprosthetic device, made by French company Carmat, is designed to replace the real heart for up to five years.

It is intended to help patients who are in the advanced stages of heart failure.

At this late stage of the disease, the damaged organ can no longer pump enough blood for the body to function normally.

When the device was fitted, the patient was said to have only a few weeks, or even days to live.

It's not known whether his death was due to any malfunction of the artificial heart or the patient's severe ill-health.

Image copyright FRANCK FIFE
Image caption The Carmat device is designed to last for years

Three more patients in France with terminal heart failure are scheduled to be fitted with the artificial heart.

The clinical trial will be considered a success if they survive for at least a month.

A further trial of another 20 patients will examine to what extent the device improves their quality of life.

Eventually the company hopes to get a European licence for the prototype heart, which is expected to cost around £150,000.

The Carmat device weighs nearly 1kg, three times that of a human heart. It is powered by an external lithium battery pack, which the patient wears on a belt.

It is made from a combination of synthetic materials, surrounded by a plastic shell.

Inside the heart, some of the surfaces which come into contact with blood are made from cow heart tissue, which are less likely to cause clots to form.

The patient trials follow many years of laboratory research and extensive animal studies.

The Carmat heart is designed to work for five years.

Transplant waiting list

Artificial hearts have been used for decades, but usually as a means of helping a failing heart to pump blood around the body.

Several companies are working on devices which entirely take over from the damaged organ until a donor heart becomes available.

In 2011 Matthew Green became the first patient in Britain to have his heart completely replaced by an artificial organ.

The 40-year-old was suffering from a severe heart condition, which meant he could have died at any time.

Mr Green said the artificial heart, made by the US firm SynCardia, had 'revolutionised' his life, allowing him to go out for walks and to the local pub.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Mr Green says his artificial heart revolutionised his life

Last summer surgeons at Papworth hospital in Cambridgeshire replaced his plastic device with a donor organ.

Mr Green told the BBC the artificial heart had 'done the job very well for two years' allowing him to survive while waiting for a suitable heart.

The need for artificial hearts is driven by the shortage of donor organs.

It is common for patients to wait well over a year for a suitable heart and it is estimated that three people a day die while waiting for an organ transplant.

Record donations

However latest figures show a record number of people in the UK donated organs after their death in 2013.

1,323 people became organ donors last year compared to 1,164 in 2012, a 13.7% increase.

As a result nearly 3,500 patients received organ transplants.

Despite the increase, nearly four in 10 families approached in the UK still refuse to allow a relative's organs to be used.

This refusal rate drops to just one in 20 when the patient is on the organ donor register and has previously discussed their wishes.

Wales will become the first UK country to adopt an opt out organ donation system in 2015.

Individuals will be presumed to have consented for their organs to be donated unless they opt out.

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