Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington, DC
February 18, 1999
(Phone: 202/358-1979)

John Ira Petty
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

RELEASE: 99-22


A miniaturized ventricular-assist pump, developed for heart
patients using NASA technology, has been successfully implanted
into seven people in European clinical trials. More than 20
additional implants are expected by mid-1999.

The tiny device has functioned normally and to specification,
said Dallas Anderson, president and CEO of MicroMed Technology
Inc. of Houston, TX, the company to which NASA granted exclusive
rights for the pump. Specific medical information on the
individual patients is confidential. But one person has undergone
a successful heart transplant after 75 days with the device
implanted in his chest. That, Anderson said, demonstrates the
pump's capability to keep a patient alive until a donor heart
becomes available.

Initially called the NASA/DeBakey heart pump, it is based in
part on technology used in Space Shuttle fuel pumps. It is
intended as a longterm "bridge" to transplant, or as a more
permanent device to help patients toward recovery leading to a
more normal life. About 5 million Americans suffer from heart
failure annually. Approximately 35,000 heart failure patients
need transplants each year, but only 2,500 donor hearts are

The concept for the pump began with talks between Baylor
College of Medicine's Dr. Michael DeBakey and one of his heart
transplant patients, NASA engineer David Saucier, who worked at
NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Saucier knew first-hand
the urgency heart-failure patients feel waiting for a donor heart.
He also knew Space Shuttle technology.

Six months after his 1984 heart transplant, Saucier was back
at work. With fellow NASA employees, Dr. DeBakey, Dr. George Noon
and other Baylor College of Medicine staff, Saucier worked
evenings and weekends on the initial pump design.

During the effort Saucier said: "Since my own transplant, I
have spent a lot of time visiting people who are waiting for a
donor heart." He said he felt a sense of urgency to develop the
pump. NASA began funding the project in 1992. Saucier died in

The result was a remarkable battery-operated pump -- 2 inches
long, 1 inch in diameter and weighing less than four ounces --
that seems to be an answer to the decades-long quest to develop an
implantable ventricular-assist pump. And it is small enough to
fit into a child's chest.

NASA, in keeping with its mission of transferring space-based
technology to the private sector, wanted to license the pump to a
company that could further develop and test it to bring it into
public use.

After intense competition, MicroMed was granted exclusive
rights to it in 1996. Anderson said MicroMed was selected partly
because it intended to develop the pump as a unit rather than use
parts of the technology in other development projects.

Such pumps have three potential problems -- destruction of
red blood cells, formation of blood clots and the body's reaction
to a more continuous blood flow rather than the normal pulsed flow
of blood. The Johnson team, with help from NASA's Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, CA, used super computers to analyze shuttle
fuel-flow dynamics to reduce red cell damage to a point
comfortably below acceptable limits. The improved flow pattern
also reduces the tendency for clots to form. No adverse
neurological effects have been seen in the implant patients due to
the pump's more continuous flow of blood.

In the two years after receiving the license, MicroMed gained
international quality and electronic standards certifications, got
permission to begin clinical trials in Europe and implanted the
first device. The first patient, a 56-year-old man received what
is now called the DeBakey VAD(TM) in Berlin in November 1998. The
company hopes to begin U.S. clinical trials in mid-1999.

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