LVAD, medications can fully restore function in heart failure patients

New research from Newcastle University found the use of left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) combined with medication can fully restore heart function in patients with end stage heart failure, a major breakthrough for heart failure patients who haven’t received a heart transplant and are running out of options.

"We talk about these devices as a bridge-to-transplant, something which can keep a patient alive until a heart is available for transplantation,” said Djordje Jakovljevic, MD, the lead author on the study and a senior research fellow at the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle in England, in a statement. "However, we know that sometimes patients recover to such an extent that they no longer need a heart transplant. For the first time, what we have shown is that heart function is restored in some patients—to the extent that they are just like someone healthy who has never had heart disease. In effect, these devices can be a bridge to full recovery in some patients."

The study, published April 10 in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, included 58 men, all of whom had heart failure. After evaluating the severity of each patient’s condition, 16 were fitted with LVADs. They were later removed due to the extent of their recovery. On average, a patient had an LVAD for 396 days before removal.

This group of patients was compared to 97 healthy men who had not been diagnosed with heart disease. They were tested on a treadmill while wearing a facemask that monitored their oxygen utilization and respiratory abilities.

Results showed that 38 percent of people whose heart condition improved enough to have the LVAD removed had heart function equivalent to that of a healthy individual of the same age.

"We can consider these pumps as a tool that can lead to a patient recovering, rather than as a device which keeps people alive until a heart transplant is available,” Jakovljevic said. "Our ongoing and future research is aiming to identify the markers of early heart recovery while patients are fitted with a device. These markers will inform clinical care teams to make right decisions about which patient respond well to device and when to consider potential removal or disconnection of the device while ensuring heart failure will not occur again in the future."