The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications
8788 John Pappajohn Pavilion
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 356-3945

Release: April 1, 2002

UI Heart Care to study potentially life-saving technology

Researchers with University of Iowa Heart Care are collaborating with four other U.S. academic medical centers in studying a new version of a blood pump that could benefit patients with severe heart failure whose lives cannot be saved by a heart transplant.

The researchers will evaluate technology called the Lionheart Left Ventricular Assist System, produced by Arrow International of Reading, Pa. The technology is a totally implantable mechanical cardiac assist system. Previous implanted blood pumps that helped the patient's heart pump blood were powered by a hard wire that penetrated the skin of the abdomen to connect the blood pump with an external source of electrical power. The newer version eliminates that hard wire, enabling the blood pump to be powered by electrical energy that is transmitted through the skin to the implanted pump.

"The ventricular assist device is essentially half an artificial heart. The device replaces the function of the left ventricle, or main pumping chamber of the heart," said Wayne Richenbacher, M.D., UI professor of surgery and a cardiothoracic surgeon with UI Heart Care. "We are very excited to be involved in the trial of this highly advanced technology that offers hope to patients who truly have no other options."

Earlier studies showed that left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) significantly enhanced survival and quality of life for patients with end-stage heart failure. LVADs are used as a "bridge to transplant," helping approved cardiac transplant recipients survive until a donor heart becomes available. However, the use of a hard wire through the skin to power the LVAD was a potential source of infection.

The Lionheart Left Ventricular Assist System removes that concern. Electrical energy is transferred from an external source across the intact skin to the system sealed within the torso. Implanted, rechargeable batteries allow the patient to even have short periods of activity without being attached to any external power source.

"This technology has now evolved to the point where we are studying its potential as an alternative to cardiac transplantation," Richenbacher said. "We will be studying its use among patients who have end-stage heart failure who are not candidates for a heart transplant. As such, this ventricular assist system will serve as 'destination therapy', that is, a permanent form of circulatory support."

The Food and Drug Administration has cleared the way for 14 patients to receive the Lionheart Left Ventricular Assist System. The other centers involved in the clinical trial include Penn State University in Hershey, Pa., University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, University of Arizona in Tucson, and Loyola University in Maywood, Ill.

For more information, contact Richenbacher at (319) 356-4087 or Kate Seemuth, clinical nurse specialist at (319) 384-9212.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine at the UI and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at