The Heart Center has a long history of studying and testing mechanical devices that support the heart. For example, Seattle Children’s was 1 of just 10 hospitals selected to participate in clinical trials of an innovative heart pump called the Berlin Heart.

Now we are testing the next generation of lifesaving heart devices. Our research includes the following areas.

Studying New Ventricular Assist Devices

We are part of a nationwide effort to develop safer, more effective ventricular assist devices (VADs). VADs are mechanical pumps that support patients’ hearts while they wait for transplant. They are also used with patients whose hearts need to rest.

Seattle Children’s is 1 of just 2 hospitals on the West Coast selected to participate in the Pumps for Kids, Infants and Neonates (PumpKIN) trial, which tests VADs that are smaller and potentially more efficient than today’s devices.

A New Way to Practice Using ECMO

When a child’s heart or lungs fail, doctors may use mechanical support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to help them survive. But putting patients on ECMO is tricky. The machine must quickly be connected to veins in a patient’s neck to keep blood flowing during heart failure or cardiac arrest. Dr. Michael McMullan’s team developed an easy, inexpensive way for surgery teams to practice this procedure.

McMullan and his colleagues used synthetic skin – the same kind used in gory masks for horror movies – and plastic tubes to create a simulated “neck.” The tubes are filled with pressurized liquid to make it seem like blood is flowing through them. Users can change the pressure to simulate cardiac arrest and other complications. The system is easy to build and costs just a few dollars.

McMullan envisions surgery teams across the nation using this model to practice. This would help teams time how long it takes them to set up ECMO and measure how well they handle complications. Seattle Children’s has some of the nation’s best outcomes for patients on ECMO, and McMullan believes this system could help other hospitals improve their ECMO outcomes.

Working to Prevent Heart Surgery’s Side Effects

Dr. Michael Portman is investigating why many children experience learning delays and other neurological issues after being placed on life support or heart bypass machines. Portman’s research group is investigating solutions to prevent these effects, such as altering heart surgeries, testing hormone and nutrition supplements and finding ways to improve support machines.