Houston Medtech Firm Procyrion Aims to Help Heart Heal Itself

Procyrion says it’s developed a crutch for your heart.

The Houston medtech startup’s device is called Aortix, a circulatory support pump that is thinner than a pencil and can be implanted in the aorta, the major artery coming from the heart, through a catheter threaded up from the thigh through the femoral artery. The device is designed to help heart failure patients by pushing more blood through the circulatory system and on to vital organs.

“The heart just needs a little bit of help,” says Will Clifton, Procyrion’s director of research and development. “We’re not replacing the function of the heart. We’re assisting the function of the heart.”

Heart assist pumps aren’t new. In the 1980s, researchers developed so-called left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) that take blood from the lower chambers of a failing heart and pump it to the rest of the body. Doctors implant about 4,000 of these devices, now in their third generation of technological development, in American heart patients each year.

Those LVADs are credited with prolonging the lives of patients with congestive heart failure, a disease that currently afflicts nearly six million Americans. But implanting the devices requires cracking open patients’ chests in expensive open-heart surgery. The devices also are large and cumbersome—too large to be used in some small patients. And in up to in 11 percent of patients, implanted LVADs cause strokes.

Reynolds Delgado, a Texas Heart Institute cardiologist, was one of many doctors who managed the care of patients with implanted LVADs. He thought there must be a better technology. “I knew the practice had to be reduced to a catheter procedure,” he says. A good analogy, he says, is in coronary artery disease, where coronary stents inserted with catheters have reduced the need for bypass surgery. Those stents “have revolutionized treatment of [coronary artery disease] and heart attack,” Delgado says.

In 2007, he had an idea for that better approach. Instead of pulling blood out of one of the ventricles, or chambers, of the heart, running it though a pump and then pulling back into an artery, he thought, why not leverage advances in micro-pump technology to place the pump directly inside an artery to give the heart a boost? “Trying to mimic what your own heart does in a machine is a lot more complicated than you would think,” Delgado explains. “Therefore, don’t try to do it. Let your heart do what it does; just assist it.”

Delgado and his team built a prototype, which they named Aortix, and … Next Page »

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