At UPMC, we are conducting research in several areas, some that may provide alternative sources of organs, and others that may reduce or eliminate the need for transplantation.
UPMC’s Artificial Heart Program was the first in the world to discharge a patient on a ventricular assist device, or VAD – a small pump that takes over some of the heart’s work. Since then, nearly 600 patients have undergone VAD procedures for their failing hearts at UPMC. Some are discharged home, while they await heart transplantation. A small number of patients with certain kinds of heart failure have recovered fully while the VAD gave their heart the rest it needed to heal. Other patients can rely on their VADs permanently, eliminating the need to wait for a donor heart.
Already instrumental in the development of new artificial heart technology, researchers at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine are developing systems that can take over for failing lungs and livers, too. Like artificial hearts, these devices will one day help patients maintain strength as they await donor organs or recover from illness.
Instead of transplanting a whole organ that is diseased, why not simply give the organ an infusion of young, healthy cells? UPMC researchers and physicians are doing just that, exploring the potential of stem cells to return strength to patients with a variety of diseases. In clinical trials, some patients at the UPMC Center for Cardiac Cell Therapy have their own stem cells injected into their failing hearts. Other UPMC researchers are seeking ways to treat diabetes with cell transplants, and creating biodegradable “patches” that can help damaged heart tissue heal.