Mechanical Hearts Bring Years of “Extra Life”
Artificial heart research has spanned five decades and created a new technology that saves thousands of lives every year. To date, more than 30,000 mechanical hearts have been implanted. Every day, dying patients are being restored to good health, with some living more than a decade. Dr. Jarvik traces the early pioneers and evolving technology, and gives his perspective on the transition of artificial hearts from headline news to routinely used medical marvels.
Dr. Jarvik has been active in artificial heart developments for over 40 years. In 1971, after completing his Master’s degree in Occupational Biomechanics at New York University, he joined the Division of Artificial Organs at the University of Utah where he received his M.D. degree in 1976. Throughout his career, his work has emphasized the invention and simplification of artificial heart technology with the goal of providing a practical artificial heart for widespread application. His work has included invention, engineering, manufacturing development, laboratory research, clinical research, regulatory affairs, and business management.
Dr. Jarvik’s early research included a decade of refinement of pneumatically powered artificial hearts. In 1973, he invented the multi-layer diaphragm that allowed the Jarvik 7 heart (designed in 1975) to pump reliably for many years whereas predecessor device diaphragms would break within weeks. He also developed the human anatomic configuration and surgical placement of the Jarvik 7, which led to the first human application of a permanent total artificial heart (Barney Clark, 1982). In 1976, Dr. Jarvik was the first to apply a miniature axial flow pump in artificial heart technology with the development of the reversing electrohydraulic energy converter (U.S. Patent No. 4,173,796). In 1979, he was a co-founder of Symbion, Inc., manufacturer of the Jarvik 7 Heart, where he served as President and CEO during the company’s IPO and early growth phase. At Symbion, he initiated development of one of the first clinical rotary blood pumps, the centrifugal pump that was later sold to St. Jude Medical and became the Lifestream device. In 1986, Symbion was acquired in a hostile takeover, and Dr. Jarvik left to found Jarvik Heart, Inc., where he has served as President and CEO and recently as Chairman. The original Jarvik 7 Heart was acquired by Syncardia, Inc., was renamed the Cardiowest Heart, and continues to be used in hundreds of patients as a bridge to transplant. It recently received full PMA approval by the FDA and is expected to become more widely available over the next few years.
In 1986, Dr. Jarvik married Marilyn vos Savant. Marilyn writes the question-and-answer column “Ask Marilyn” for Parade magazine, the Sunday magazine distributed by 342 newspapers with a circulation of 22 million and a readership of 54 million, the largest in the world. She is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records Hall of Fame under “Highest I.Q.” and was named by Toastmasters International as the #1 most popular communicator/speaker in the educational and social category. Since the founding of Jarvik Heart, she has worked together with her husband in the development and administration of the company. At their wedding ceremony, Thomas Gaidosh, the seventh patient to receive the Jarvik 7 Heart and who became the first bridge-to-transplant patient to live more than a decade, was the groom’s best man. The bride was given away by famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.
In 1986, Dr. Jarvik invented the concept of an intraventricular artificial heart (U.S. Patent No. 5,092,879) used with the Jarvik 2000 Heart, a small blood pump placed inside the natural heart, which supports it and helps prevent infection. He pioneered developments in rotary blood pumps including pumps with blood-immersed bearings and miniature axial flow pumps supported by magnetic bearings. To date, about a thousand patients have received the Jarvik 2000 Heart under CE mark and clinical research programs in ten countries. The first patient treated for lifetime use was rehabilitated to an active lifestyle and lived more than seven years after his implantation surgery, during which time he wrote two books, did charity work, and traveled widely to lecture and attend scientific meetings in the United States and Europe. At that time, he had been supported longer than any other patient in the world with a single implanted artificial heart. Today, the longest support time of patients with the Jarvik 2000 exceeds nine years, and accelerated durability tests indicate that it will last for decades.
Dr. Jarvik holds more than 30 U.S. and foreign patents covering permanent artificial hearts, temporary blood pumps for use in less invasive heart surgery, methods of improving cardiomyoplasty, and other inventions such as virtual reality exercise devices.
Dr. Jarvik was named Inventor of the Year (1983) by the Intellectual Properties Owners Association and has received numerous awards and honorary degrees. During development of the Jarvik 2000 heart, he has served as Principle Investigator on several National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants and contracts and is currently conducting research under a major NIH contract to develop tiny artificial hearts for children and infants. He also has collaborated in various research programs at medical centers throughout the United States and abroad.
From 2006 to 2007, Dr. Jarvik served as national spokesperson for Lipitor, the leading treatment for high cholesterol, so he has both been an advocate for preventive measures to reduce the risk of heart disease and a developer of leading technology to treat severe heart failure.
Dr. Jarvik is currently Chairman and CEO of Jarvik Heart, manufacturer of the Jarvik 2000 heart.
Inventor of the Year
Intellectual Property Owners Association (1982)
Honorary Doctor of Science
Syracuse University (1983)
GQ Magazine (1984)
Honorary Doctor of Medicine
Hannemann University School of Medicine (1985)
Honorary Doctor of Engineeering
Milwaukee School of Engineering (1988)
National Hero Award,
Lifetime Research Achievement Award
Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute (2005)
Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
New York University (2008)
Arents Award for Extraordinary Achievement
Syracuse University (2016)