What if you could replace a human heart with a titanium one?

For people living with heart failure, artificial hearts could be a viable alternative to rare heart transplants.

Dr Daniel Timms invented the world’s first durable, totally artificial heart – the BiVACOR titanium heart – which is currently being tested for potential trials in patients. Timms was nominated for Queensland’s Australian of the Year Award for 2023.

A graduate of the Queensland University of Technology, when Timms’ father died of heart failure in 2006 the then PhD student in Biomedical Engineering worked obsessively toward a solution to help people with failing hearts.

“One of the reasons I got into this field was my father had heart failure. I was 22 or 23 when I came up with this idea for a mechanical, artificial heart,” Timms says.

“When my father had heart failure he would go to the Prince Charles hospital to be treated, and as I was completing my PhD, the administrators and surgeons essentially found me a room, found me a wage and I could continue developing the idea.”

Chronic heart failure is a devastating condition that occurs when the heart becomes weaker or less effective at pumping blood around the body. It’s estimated that 480,000 Australians are affected by the disease, with over 60,000 new diagnoses made every year.

In 2021, there were 112 heart transplants undertaken in Australia. For patients with end-stage heart failure, implantation of a total artificial heart (TAH) could be treatment option for those on the heart transplant waiting list – or those who do not qualify for a transplant.

The BiVACOR is a total artificial heart designed to take over the complete function of a patient’s failing heart. The compact device has just a single moving part – a spinning disk suspended in place and rotated by a magnetic field. Because the rotor is contactless, the device is expected to be extremely durable, with an anticipated life of up to 10 years or more.

You can watch the national Australian of the Year Awards, presented on Wednesday 25 January in Canberra, at 7:30pm (AEDT) on ABC and iView.

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