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Tiny Device Delivers Big Assist to Interventional Cardiologists

Clinicians in University of Colorado Hospital's Cardiac Catheterization Lab have begun using a tiny cardiac assist device with the goal of improving survival rates for patients who require artery-opening procedures but are considered too high risk for open-heart surgery.

The Impella 2.5 cardiac assist device is billed by its manufacturer, Abiomed, Inc. as "the world's smallest heart pump." Last summer Abiomed received 501(k) clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to sell the device to hospital interventional cardiology departments.

Tiny dynamo

Like its much larger ventricular assist device counterparts, the Impella 2.5 – only 4 millimeters long – mechanically sucks oxygenated blood out of the left ventricle of the heart into the aorta, which then delivers it to the rest of the body. It is implanted via a minimally invasive procedure and typically remains in the body a relatively short time, according to John Messenger, MD, director of UCH's Cardiac Cath Lab.

To date the Cath Lab has used the new device in just two patients, both of whom had had previous coronary bypass operations and were not candidates for repeat surgery, but who needed to undergo high-risk angioplasty, says Messenger.

He anticipates the device will eventually gain wider use. "My sense is that many hospitals will have it... it offers an incredible improvement for percutaneous support [of the ventricular function]."

Messenger believes that improvement could help save lives of patients suffering massive heart attacks or abnormal heart rhythms. "It gives us the support we need to get vessels open or restart the heart's electrical system," he says.

This page is adapted from a story that appeared in the UCH Insider, the hospital's candid e-newsletter. The Insider, which is published biweekly, is available to people outside the hospital via a free e-mail subscription. Tyler Smith ( is managing editor of the Insider.

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