$50m grant to power Artificial Heart Frontiers Program

Monday, 11 March, 2024

$50m grant to power Artificial Heart Frontiers Program

Monash University is set to lead a transdisciplinary consortium to develop and commercialise a suite of life-changing implantable cardiac devices that will offer longer-term solutions for all types of debilitating heart failure, thanks to a $50 million grant from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) — the third-largest grant in the fund’s history.

The Artificial Heart Frontiers Program, based at the Monash Alfred Baker Centre for Cardiovascular Research at The Alfred, will seek to develop and commercialise three key devices to treat the most common forms of heart failure. Together, these highly durable devices could halve deaths from heart failure and establish Australia as a world leader in the clinical trial, development and local manufacture of cardiac medical technology.

The devices include the following:

  • A wholly new miniature device, the Mini-Pump, that is implanted inside the hearts of patients who currently have no other option for treating their heart failure symptoms.
  • A new type of left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that is implanted next to a natural heart to help it pump.
  • Australian-grown company BiVACOR’s total artificial heart (TAH), which fully replaces a natural heart and is durable enough to last for more than 10 years, small enough to implant in a child and still powerful enough for an adult.

All three devices use game-changing technologies that will allow them to mimic a natural heart by automatically responding to the body’s physical demands, offering heart failure patients a treatment that helps to keep them active. This is in contrast to current devices, which operate with a relatively fixed blood flow rate (or pump speed) that significantly curtails activity by leaving patients out of breath.

“Heart failure is a chronic progressive condition in which patients suffer from debilitating symptoms, including persistent breathlessness and fatigue, that frequently require hospitalisation at great cost to a patient’s quality of life and the health system,” said Professor David Kaye, project co-lead and Director of Cardiology at The Alfred.

“The average survival of a heart failure patient is comparable to some cancers at just five years, and is even less for patients with advanced heart failure, who are the people our devices will most benefit.

“By providing for the first time an automatic physiological response, these devices will significantly improve the quality of life of patients, allowing them to complete standard daily activities without shortness of breath.”

With the MRFF funding set to support clinical trials at The Alfred in Melbourne and St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, the TAH is expected to be on the market as soon as 2025, followed by the LVAD in 2029 and the Mini-Pump in 2031. The development and manufacture of these devices is expected to form the basis for a new medical device industry in Australia, comprising advanced engineering and pre-clinical evaluation, and building local capacity to support ongoing translational research in Australia’s health and medical sector.

“Central to the Frontiers Program is the creation of a complete cardiac device ecosystem in Australia, encompassing research, clinical trials, commercialisation and the development of new manufacturing capabilities,” said project co-lead Associate Professor Shaun Gregory, from Monash University’s Faculty of Engineering.

By 2036 the project is expected to have generated a $1.8 billion benefit to Australia and Australian society, including savings to the healthcare system, an expansion in local industry in research and manufacturing, the creation of more than 2000 jobs and providing Australians early access to clinical trials and emerging life-saving technologies.

“This project shows the power of research to foster and connect innovation across academic disciplines, organisations and industries to make a profound real-world impact,” said Professor Rebekah Brown, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Senior Vice-President at Monash University.

Image caption: Illustration of the total artificial heart (TAH). Image courtesy BiVACOR.

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