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The Future Heart

Will future treatments for heart failure come from human transplants, complete mechanical devices, specially modified pig hearts or lab-grown stem cells? Kevin Fong reports.

It's fifty years since the first human heart transplant but the number of donor organs - about 200 per year in the UK - remains dwarfed by demand. About 2,000 people under the age of 65 a year will die of heart failure without a transplant.

Kevin Fong explores new ways that people with heart failure can be helped. He talks to Dr Doris Taylor, director of the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology, at the Texas Heart Institute, in Houston, about her research into growing hearts from stem cells. Kevin discusses the prospect of taking organs from pigs and using them for so-called xenotransplants with cardiothoracic surgeon Prof John Dark, of Newcastle University, who says this approach has not delivered benefits.

An alternative to a heart transplant is the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) - an artificial pump that helps the left side of the heart do its job. This has shrunk from a large external piece of kit to a tiny battery-operated device that can be implanted into the chest. For the first year, they are as effective as a transplant, but they have a risk of infection, and they are not always easy to live with. Kevin meets patient Vincenzo Avanzato who had an LVAD that became infected and then a successful transplant.

Kevin also talks to surgeon Mr Andre Simon of Harefield Hospital about the future of completely mechanical hearts made of metal and plastic.

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