News | February 16, 2009

Father of World’s Only FDA, CE Approved Total Artificial Heart Dies at 97

Syncardia's CardioWest artificial heart

February 12, 2009 - Dr. Willem Johan Kolff, the world’s most prolific inventor of artificial organs, passed away Feb. 11 at the age of 97 in Philadelphia.

Among Dr. Kolff’s many accomplishments were the artificial kidney, heart-lung machine, artificial eye, artificial ear and artificial arm. However, he was best known for his decades of work that led to the Jarvik 7 artificial heart.

“The modern version of Dr. Kolff’s artificial heart, the CardioWest temporary total artificial heart, is the result of 60 years of development by the giants of medicine,” said Rodger Ford, president and CEO of SynCardia Systems Inc. “Without Dr. Kolff’s vision, innovation and leadership, the artificial heart would not be the life-saving technology it is today.”

In 1947, the modern day artificial heart began as a dream of Dr. Kolff. In 1950, Dr. Kolff left his home in The Netherlands to begin work on the artificial heart at Cleveland Clinic. On Dec. 12, 1957, Dr. Kolff’s work resulted in the implant of an artificial heart into a dog that lived for 90 minutes.

In 1967, Dr. Kolff left Cleveland Clinic to start the Division of Artificial Organs at the University of Utah. More than 240 physicians, engineers, students and faculty developed, tested and improved Dr. Kolff’s artificial heart.

On Dec. 2, 1982, Dr. Kolff’s 35 years of dedication culminated in the first implant of his artificial heart into dentist Barney Clark. Clark, who was hours from death prior to the surgery, lived for 112 days.

Today, there have been more than 780 implants, accounting for more than 150 patient years of life on the artificial heart. Originally designed as a permanent replacement heart, the CardioWest artificial heart is currently approved as a bridge to human heart transplant for patients dying from both sides of the heart failing (end stage biventricular failure).

?The next generation of artificial heart technology is the Companion Discharge Driver, which is designed to power the artificial heart outside the hospital. In March, SynCardia will submit an application to the FDA to conduct an IDE clinical study of the Companion Discharge Driver at 22 U.S. certified centers. For the first time in the U.S., CardioWest patients will be able to enjoy life at home while they wait for a matching donor heart.

This spring, Herman Broers, the co-founder and managing director of the Willem Kolff Foundation, will hold a memorial ceremony at the Kolff Museum in The Netherlands to honor Dr. Kolff. The CardioWest artificial heart is currently on display at the Kolff Museum in the very room where Dr. Kolff first envisioned his artificial heart more than 60 years ago.

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