NASA Motor Technology Now Helps Pump Children's Hearts

Dr. Mark Rodefeld, a pediatric heart surgeon at Indiana University, reached out to NASA Glenn Research Center to help solve a very serious problem. "About 1,500 children are born every year with a missing ventricle," says Rodefeld. By having half a heart essentially, the body is missing half of its pumping ability to oxygenate blood and circulate it to stay alive. Currently, the best solution is a heart transplant, however, it's a limited option due to donor availability and short-term success. The next best solution is a partial fix called the Fontan procedure, which requires three open-heart surgeries to create a passive circulation network to replace the blood pumping function of the missing ventricle. Rodefeld came up with an idea to insert a small conical pump, driven by an electrical motor, into an existing Fontan network. This pump would reproduce the pressures and flow coming from the body and head, reducing the wear and tear on the single remaining ventricle and extend the life of the patient. A team of engineers at NASA Glenn spent two years designing, building, and testing a bi-conical heart pump for Rodefeld. Eventually they completed a functional prototype of the bi-conical heart pump to allow for traditional motor operation as well as levitation operation.