April 15, 2002

Heart Pioneer Speaks on Research

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David Lederman M.D. ’73, president and chief executive of Abiomed, the company that designed the first self-contained artificial heart, spoke at Cornell last Friday to students and alumni during the annual conference of the Cornell Society of Engineers. Lederman’s speech was teleconferenced to law offices in Boston and The Cornell Club in New York City.

To a filled audience, Lederman provided an overview of the self-contained artificial heart his company developed after thirty years of research. Seven patients were set to receive the AbioCor heart designed by Abiomed last year, but two died on the operating table. For the remaining five patients, the AbioCor successfully sustained the patients’ life expectancies, which for all patients was less that thirty days, according to Lederman. One such patient is doing well seven months after the transplant.

At this time, the AbioCor has demonstrated reliability for a period of time of a year and fits 50 percent of the adult male populations and 20 percent of the adult female population, Lederman stated. Ultimately, the company hopes to create an artificial heart with a greater reliability and one that can fit a greater percentage of the population.

Lederman also described the obstacles and findings of the “first generation” of self-contained heart transplants.

“A hundred thousand people people a year need a replacement heart to live,” said Lederman. “There are 2,000 donor hearts available a year. The AbioCor is not a solution for all.”

“No patient died because the AbioCor failed,” Lederman said, discussing the findings. “The overall design is sound, largely trouble-free, without wires, and quiet.”

He also talked about health complications that the AbioCor withstood. These conditions included compromised lungs, high fever, and severe hypoxia.

“One of the most remarkable surprises is that the AbioCor survived conditions that the native heart wouldn’t have been able to,” Lederman said.

Lederman also introduced the goals of the “second generation” of Abiomed hearts, which will be implanted to fifteen patients in 2004. The hearts will be smaller and more comfortable for the patients, said Lederman.

After a twenty-minute speech, Lederman showed a short film on the patients who received the Abiomed heart and provided the opportunity for the audience to ask questions. Audience members asked questions regarding specific patients, engineering practices, as well as questions dealing with the politics and ethics of Abiomed.

Mike Cleary ’86 asked a question concerning Abiomed’s funding. Lederman said that the company receives money from many sources including the government and revenue from its pump assist device.

Many members of the audience were pleased with Lederman’s speech.

“I really enjoyed the emphasis on the actual recipients,” said Andrew Blanco ’99.

“We were very pleased to have Dr. Lederman speak here today,” said Marsha Pickens, assistant dean of engineering. “He is a loyal Cornell graduate and is very involved with Cornell. He has been here at Cornell many times for alumni affairs and also provides jobs for the Cornell co-op program within his company.”

“I never saw a Cornell lunch end so quickly after they announced there were only seventy seats [in the room that Lederman would be speaking],” said Christian Mattin, a member of the audience.

Lederman’s speech and accomplishments coincided with the conference’s theme — “The Body is a Machine, The World is a System: The Convergence of Engineering and the Life Sciences.”

“Every year we choose topics of particular interest to alumni,” said Jonathan Poe ’82.

Among the audience members was Wilson Greatbatch ’50, the inventor of the cardiac pacemaker.

“This is history,” said Poe, observing when Lederman and Greatbatch posed in a picture together.

Archived article by Jamie Yonks