Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Era of Artificial Hearts Has Begun


Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, journalist, and author of the novel The Transhumanist Wager. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.

Artificial Knees. Total hip replacements. Cataract surgery. Hearing aids. Dentures. We are a society bent on improving human health through substitution and augmentation of our body parts. But one of the most important goals of transhumanist medicine—possessing a perfectly healthy heart—has so far remained elusive. This week, we came a step closer when for the second time ever, a French company implanted a permanent artificial heart in a patient.

Heart disease is the number one killer in America: It claims nearly 800,000 lives every year, making it the cause of roughly one in three deaths. But radical new medical technology may soon change that: Expect the possibility of trading in your biological heart for a better, artificial one in about a decade's time.

There have been over 1,000 artificial heart transplant surgeries carried out in humans over the last 35 years. Probably the most famous is Dr. Barney Clark, a Seattle dentist who survived 112 days in 1982 with an implanted Jarvik-7, the first device designed to completely replace the heart. Over 11,000 more heart surgeries where valve pumps were installed have also been performed—former Vice President Dick Cheney received one in 2010.

Replacing the human heart with a robotic version is on the rise around the world. However, nearly all operations currently carried out are only a temporary bridge to buy precious time until a biological heart transplant can be made. Transplants of biological hearts, while often successful, are very difficult to come by, due to a shortage of suitable organs. Over 100,000 people around the world at any given time are waiting for a heart. Even Dick Cheney had to wait 20 months to find a heart appropriate for his body. There simply are not enough healthy hearts available for the thousands who need them.

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