Producing the next implantable heart pump

Dr Graham Foster

Calon Cardio-Technology Ltd’s use of HPC Wales’ supercomputing technology and associated services is contributing to the development of the next generation of affordable, implantable micro blood pumps for the treatment of chronic heart failure. Ventricular assist devices (VADs) provide an alternative to heart transplants.

Without these, patients with advanced heart failure have a life expectancy of around a year and a very poor quality of life. As fewer than 100 heart transplants are carried out in the UK each year, these pumps have the potential to save many thousands of lives.

While they are a viable treatment for heart failure, the current generation of VADs are large (requiring highly invasive surgery), very costly and cause long term damage to blood that can cause further health problems to the patient.

Calon Cardio is addressing these problems through the development of a much smaller and cheaper VAD that can be directly implanted into the heart, minimising the damage to the blood, offering an extended life expectancy and helping to ensure an improved quality of life for the patient. Refining the design of the pump to reduce its impact on blood is a time consuming process, especially if new prototypes need to be constructed following each set of laboratory tests. Running highly detailed computer simulations during the design process allows researchers to understand how blood will flow through the pump and estimate any damage that might be caused. According to Dr Graham Foster, Calon Cardio’s Chief Technology Officer:

“When we’re trying to simulate the flow of the blood inside the device, the computing issues we have are essentially a lack of computing power, leading to a very long cycle time for each simulation. Typically, with a standard desktop computer, just running one case could take up to a week, whereas with access to high-performance computing that process can be shrunk to less than a day - even a few hours.

“So, we have an enormous benefit from using high performance computing over standard desktop computing.

“High performance computing has allowed us to gain a huge insight into the inner workings of the pump and allowed us to properly understand the fluid flow within the device, enabling us to iterate the design and arrive at an improved pump in a much shorter timeframe than would have been otherwise possible through trial and error.

“Through the use of HPC Wales we hope to achieve a better optimised pump that handles blood better and, as a result, improves patient quality of life and ultimately enables Calon to become a global exporter of these heart-assist pumps.”

Graham Foster(front), Kevin Fernquest(left), Alex O'Malley and James Abbey from Calon Cardio.

Around 300 companies make up Wales’ Life Sciences sector, which employs 15,000 people and has seen 19% growth in the past three years alone. In this rapidly growing sector, innovation by companies such as Calon Cardio is vital to ensuring Wales’ future prosperity. As Dr Foster explains, access to and support in using high performance computing via HPC Wales provides these companies with a vital edge over their international competition:

“HPC Wales has allowed us to access high performance computing without actually having to have high performance computing experts employed by our company, so it’s made the whole process seamless and easy and not required us to invest in our own infrastructure and people to do something which would otherwise have been prohibitive for a small company.

“In the future we hope that Calon will be a well-established manufacturer and supplier of heart-assist devices, not just within Wales but globally, and we will have created a sustainable business within Wales.

“I would urge other researchers and businesses to get in touch with HPC Wales to see how they can help with their research needs.”

HPC Wales provides Calon Cardio with access to compute facilities that are enabling ground-breaking research to extend the lives of people suffering from advanced heart failure; that will benefit the Welsh economy through the creation of skilled jobs in the development and production of the heart pump, which in turn will create a large, new export opportunity.