Based on turbine technology developed for use in liquid propellant rocket engines, this specially designed small, lightweight, high speed turbine pumps blood without damage to the delicate, individual blood cells. A joint effort beginning in 1988 between NASA and a group of doctors headed by Dr. Michael DeBakey led to development of this Ventricular Assist Device (VAD), a small, efficient axial flow blood pump.
In order to develop the high performance required of the liquid propellant Space Shuttle main engines, NASA pushed the state of the art in the technology of turbopump design. Using this technology and computational fluid dynamics software developed for use in Shuttle flow analysis, NASA engineers worked toward the miniaturization and optimization of the small blood pump. The VAD technology developed by these engineers was licensed to a commercial medical supply company, MicroMed Technology, Inc. who developed the ancillary support systems (controller and data acquisition systems) through a series of preclinical trials with Dr. DeBakey at Baylor College of Medicine.
The assistance this VAD provides will be utilized in three distinct modes: initially as a “bridge to transplant,” a temporary device used to help the patient survive while waiting for a suitable transplant organ to become available. A second beneficial application is in the “bridge to recovery.” Surgeons have discovered that with some hearts, the assistance supplied by the VAD is sufficient to allow the natural heart to repair itself, in which case, the VAD can later be removed. The third anticipated application of the VAD would be as a permanent implant.