This Harpoon Is Being "Fired" Into People's Hearts To Save Their Lives

The harpoon 'gun.' Harpoon Medical
Robin Andrews 20 Jul 2016, 15:56

The prospect of having to undergo open-heart surgery is undoubtedly a daunting one. However, a new groundbreaking – albeit terrifying-looking – method for treating a commonplace condition may make conventional surgery a thing of the past for millions of patients worldwide.

This technique involves what is essentially a harpoon gun, and it’s designed to fix a malfunctioning valve that, if left untreated, can be life-threatening. As a study in Circulation reveals, this treatment method means that the chest doesn’t need to be forced open, nor does the heart need to be made to stop beating, as expected during normal open-heart surgery.

In a clinical trial involving 11 patients at a hospital in Poland, the device worked perfectly each and every time. Although the device has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, this trial increases the likelihood that one day it will be.

“We think this is a safer approach than open heart surgery,” principal investigator James S. Gammie, from the University of Maryland Medical Center, said in a statement. “We think the safety profile is going to be better and, ultimately, people will be able to go home from the hospital the next day.”

The condition in question is something known as mitral valve regurgitation (MR), where blood flows in two different directions through said valve when the heart contracts. This means that pressure will accumulate in the area, and it will often spread to the veins leading from the lungs to the heart. If the level of regurgitation is severe, then blockages can occur.

MR develops when the small fibrous cords that open and close the valve’s flaps are either stretched or entirely broken. Normally, risky open-heart surgery is required to fix this, but the Harpoon TSD-5 has circumvented this.

The harpoon gun in (virtual) action. AmerraMedical via YouTube

First, a team of surgeons manually insert the gun through a small opening in the ribcage towards the patient’s beating heart. Then, using ultrasound to build up a picture of the heart, the business end of the harpoon is guided to the malfunctioning valve.

The end of the harpoon itself is wrapped in a bundle of artificial cords that are designed to replace the torn or severed ones. After lining up the shot, the harpoon is guided into the wound, and an automatic process expands the artificial cords and forms a tight seal to prevent them from unbinding.

Not only has this technique proven to be at present 100 percent successful, but unlike open-heart surgery, recovery takes days, not months. As reported by Gizmag, MR affects 2 percent of the world’s population, and the team behind the harpoon estimate that 75 percent of MR patients can be treated with their potentially revolutionary device.

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