William "Billy" Cohn, M.D., discusses the journey of the total artificial heart.

Billy Cohn on the Past, Present and Future of the Total Artificial Heart

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Billy Cohn on the Past, Present and Future of the Total Artificial Heart

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It was standing-room only at Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s JLABS @ TMC as legendary cardiologist William “Billy” Cohn, M.D., vice president of medical devices at Johnson & Johnson, discussed the past, present and future of the total artificial heart.

Decked out in his signature cowboy boots, Cohn wowed the audience with stories about his medical mentors O.H. “Bud” Frazier, M.D., Denton Cooley, M.D., and Michael DeBakey, M.D., who pioneered heart transplant procedures and the development of left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) right here in the Texas Medical Center. He also discussed his own home laboratory, jokingly referring to Home Depot his “medical device prototype headquarters.”

He took the audience back to the 1960s, when DeBakey began his work with artificial hearts due to a scarcity of hearts available for transplant.

“To use a heart for transplant, you had to die in a certain way, and your heart had to be healthy,” Cohn said.

Fast forward to the 1980s, and DeBakey and Cooley were responsible for more than 2,000 of the transplants performed in the United States, he said. Then in 1988, the first LVAD was implanted in a human.

Today, more than 50,000 people have had continuous flow pumps like the LVAD implanted, Cohn said, adding that “[LVADs] changed the face of heart failure.”

Some of the advantages of today’s technologies, he said, are being able to tweak the design of the artificial heart overnight via a 3-D printer and being able to test it the next day. The motors and components inside are getting smarter, and are able to get the two pumps, one for the right side of the heart and one for the left, to balance as blood is pumped.

Cohn concluded with a discussion of the future of the artificial heart field, noting there are “tons of pumps coming to market” in 2017. These include the Cleveland Smart Heart, Rich Wampler’s OREGON HEART and the BiVACOR V-3B, which Cohn helped develop.

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