New blood has been pumped into the University of Utah's artificial heart program.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday it will restore funding to the U.'s Institute for Biomedical Engineering to develop a totally implantable, electrically powered artificial heart.The program was all but dead when Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, spearheaded an agressive campaign to salvage it.
In January the institute granted $5,592,000 to the U. - one of the largest federal contracts ever awarded. But four months later, institute director Dr. Claude Lenfant stunned investigators with the news that 51/2-year research grants to four contractors - a total of $22.4 million - were being withdrawn so research could focus on patient trials of an artificial device that can assist or substitute for the human heart's left ventricle.
Funding also was slashed from ABIOMED Inc., Danvers, Mass.; the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio; and Pennsylvania State University in Hershey.
Hatch, who has been trying to breathe life back into the programs ever since, was notified Wednesday by Lenfant that he had won the battle.
"This is good news for the millions who will need artificial hearts or their components," Hatch said. "Without funds the programs would have died - just as some 33,000 heart patients would be doomed to die each year."
Hatch's enthusiasm was surpassed by Dr. Donald B. Olsen, director of the U.'s Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Division of Artificial Organs.
"We are indeed grateful to Sen. Hatch and his very capable staff and all of the support that was brought to bear in resolving the artificial heart program," Olsen said.
In May, Olsen predicted that artificial heart research would cease without essential federal funding. Japan and other foreign countries, he said, would take an irreversible lead in one of the few technological areas where the United States had excelled - the development of a totally implantable artificial heart.
During the past two months Hatch led a vigorious effort to persuade Lenfant to reverse his decision. Backed by senators from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Hatch filed an amendment to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill for continued funding to the four artificial heart programs.
The senators' bipartisan consensus was that the money was available; the institute's budget is $75 million fatter this year.
The real pressure on Lenfant came in a face-to-face meeting with Hatch and the other senators who heralded the virtue of their respective heart programs.
A month later - Wednesday - he notified Hatch that he would restore funding if Hatch would drop the amendment.
Hatch agreed, and the U. program, having skipped a few beats, will again move forward to lead the nation in heart research.
It was at the U. in 1982 that the world's first permanent artificial heart was implanted into the chest of Seattle dentist Barney Clark. Clark died in March 1983, and Dr. William DeVries, the only physician who has federal approval to implant the device, left Utah to pursue his specialty at the Humana-Audubon Hospital in Louisville, Ky. Recently, he left the hospital to go into private cardiac practice.
However, research on the Utah 100 Heart, another pneumatically driven artificial heart, has continued at the U.