Press release | 26.4.2016
Munich, 26 April 2016 - Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. At any given
time, there are around 100 000 people waiting for heart transplants from some
4 000 available donors. This discrepancy has given rise to cardiac prosthetics, but until now the devices have been little more than stop-gap solutions designed to keep patients alive until suitable replacement hearts could be found. To address these problems, the French surgeon and inventor Alain Carpentier (82) developed the CARMAT heart: A fully implantable mechanical pump that not only "beats" like a normal heart but is also built to last.
For his achievements, the European Patent Office (EPO) has named Alain Carpentier as one of three finalists for the European Inventor Award 2016 in the category "Lifetime achievement". The winners of the 11th edition of the annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Lisbon on 9 June.
"Carpentier's invention is the closest modern technology has ever come to a permanent replacement for a malfunctioning heart," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli, announcing the European Inventor Award 2016 finalists. "The CARMAT heart is a remarkable contribution to medical technology, one that could improve the lives of thousands of heart patients around the world."
The advantages of Carpentier's invention are manifold: In addition to having a longer lifespan than similar devices, it is also self-regulating. It uses microelectronic sensors to measure the body's level of activity and adjusts the volume of blood it pumps accordingly. The CARMAT heart also distinguishes itself through its biocompatibility. When designing his artificial heart, Carpentier incorporated chemically-treated animal tissue, in order to prevent post-surgical blood clotting and decrease the risk of rejection by a patient's immune system, two common problems in heart transplants. Carpentier's invention builds on the huge success of the Teflon®-coated metal-framed artificial heart valves he devised, which have been used to treat over 250 000 patients worldwide.
Indeed, Carpentier's artificial heart is the culmination of one of the most successful careers in the history of cardiology. After earning his doctorate in medicine from the University of Paris in 1966, Carpentier went on to pioneer novel methods for repairing faulty heart valves, earning him the status in scientific circles as the father of reconstructive valve surgery. In the US alone, of the roughly 50 000 people who have undergone open-heart surgery for heart valve maladies, nearly three-quarters of them were treated with techniques and technology developed by Carpentier. The French cardiologist is named as an inventor on more than 20 patent applications. By advocating repair over replacement, Carpentier revolutionised an industry that, today, is estimated to be worth more than EUR 1.5 billion a year.
Early in his professional career, while working as a cardiac surgeon at the Hôpital Broussais, Carpentier lost a patient to a stroke after a blood clot formed on a plastic heart valve he had implanted. Determined to prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring, Carpentier sought materials for his artificial valves that weren't as susceptible to "thromboembolism", as blood clotting is known to doctors. By 1975, he had acquired a second PhD in chemistry, which helped the surgeon-scientist prepare animal tissue that he would then incorporate into his prosthetics to avoid any negative immunological reactions. The resulting technology became known as the "Carpentier-Edwards valve", so named to create the original inventor of the artificial valve, American inventor Miles "Lowell" Edwards. It became the world's first artificial valve in widespread clinical use.
But it wasn't until 1993 that Carpentier began to realise his vision of creating a durable artificial heart that worked as well as the real organ. Carpentier's research lab had the know-how for the biochemical components, but it needed a partner that could help it develop the electronic system. That partner was found in Matra, a company that made missiles and satellites. The project gradually expanded over the years as Matra merged with other European aerospace companies to form European Aeronautic Defence and Space, or EADS. In 2013, CARMAT, the company Carpentier spun off from EADS in 2008 to market his new high-tech invention, had its inaugural surgery on a 75-year-old man. The patient lived 74 days past surgery, more than twice as long as was required for Carpentier to get the go-ahead for further clinical trials.
The 19th-century French scientist Claude Bernard once said, "Whatever the poets may say, the heart is just a pump." As with any pump, the heart can break down and need repair. That's where Carpentier's device comes in: It replaces the chambers of the heart - the "ventricles" - that receive blood from the body, channel it through the lungs and pump it back into circulation. The ventricles in the CARMAT heart are made of a synthetic material, each of which is divided by a membrane of sterile, chemically-treated cow tissue to ward off blood clots. Then there's the pump action. What the body achieves via specialised groups of cells that generate electrical impulses and cause the heart to contract, Carpentier's model achieves with two miniature electric motors that power hydraulic pumps to flex the membranes in each ventricle and push the blood along. As hydraulic fluid is pumped in and out of the artificial heart chambers, blood enters and leaves. The device is powered by wearable lithium ion batteries.
Despite Carpentier's medical objectivity, he holds a soft spot for the human heart that his technology has helped mimic: "Everyone knows that the heart responds to emotions. In that regard, it's one of our most precious organs."
The prospect of CARMAT impacting on the cardiac prosthetic market is considerable, not least because artificial hearts are still regarded as a temporary way to keep patients alive before suitable donors can be found. In fact, fewer than 2 000 people have received fully implantable hearts in the last 30 years. Carpentier's innovation could change that: The CARMAT heart is designed to last at least five years - about the amount of time it takes for a human heart to beat 230 million times. And the fact that Carpentier's device is self-regulating means cardiac patients can exert themselves more than they could with other implants. Both of these advantages increase the likelihood that the CARMAT heart may one day be widely adopted, something a number of investors seem to agree on. CARMAT had its initial public offering on the NYSE Euronext exchange in 2010. As of 21 April 2016, market capitalisation values the company at more than €160 million.
Video and photo material
Medical innovations such as Carpentier's artificial heart are changing lives for millions throughout the world. Carpentier joins a team of Dutch inventors who invented dynamic pacemakers as cardiologists nominated for the European Inventor Award. However, he is also part of a much larger field of medical specialists that have created inventions which profoundly changes our lives. Also nominated this year in the Research category is Alim-Louis Benabid, another Frenchman, for his novel treatment of Parkinson's disease. Read more about patented medical technologies.
Director External Communication
European Patent Office
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