Image from Carmat.

Image from Carmat.

Artificial organs could become relatively commonplace soon, at least according to an article in the New York Times. Carmat SAS (EPA:ALCAR), a company based in France, is testing the latest iteration of an artificial heart – this time, using cow hearts for critical pieces of the device. According to Dr. Joseph Rogers, associate professor at Duke University, “The way they’ve incorporated biological surfaces for any place that contacts blood is a really nice advantage.” He points out that this could be a “game changer.” Part of the problem surrounding previous iterations of artificial hearts is clotting, which typically happens with plastic valves that touch a person’s heart.

Carmat recently received approval to begin human trials on their bioprosthetic heart. The four cardiac surgery centers that have approved the trials are located in Belgium, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Slovenia. In the US, there are only about 2,000 hearts available for transplant each year. A viable artificial heart could help more than 100,000 people each year in the US alone, according to the New York Times article. The viability of the Carmat-designed heart will have to be tested extensively in clinical trials before becoming a standard option for patients who need a heart transplant. For example, the company plans to test to see if the heart will last for up to five years implanted in a human. ALCAR closed July 19 at $120.34, down $1.26, with a market cap of $491.51 million. Its 52-week trading range is $90.60 – $159.25.

For the near future, patients in need of heart transplants have a short-term option in the form of bridge-to-transplant heart pumps. These pumps are designed to help patients’ hearts continue processing blood until a suitable donor heart can be found. They may also be used as an alternative to donor transplants. HeartWare International, Inc * (Nasdaq:HTWR), based in Framingham, MA, recently simplified the world of bridge-to-transplant devices by creating a miniaturized version of a heart pump. The HeartWare Ventricular Assist Device gained FDA approval in late 2012. HTWR closed July 19 at $94.37, up $1.42, with a market cap of $1.55 billion. Its 52-week trading range is $74.77 – $99.68.

Another small-cap company operating in the cardiological intervention industry is Minneapolis, MN-based Vascular Solutions, Inc (Nasdaq:VASC). They provide medical devices to interventional cardiologists to assist patients with a variety of heart-related maladies. They produce catheter products, hemostat products and vein products for hospitals, like their SmartNeedle vascular access system. VASC closed July 19 at $16.42, up $0.19, with a market cap of $271.73 million. Its 52-week trading range is $12.50 – $17.18.

Of course, in the long-term future, more and more advanced concepts could provide patients with solutions that appear to come right out of a science fiction novel. The advent of 3-D printers have led some scientists to pursue creating printed organs using a combination of patient cells and biological “scaffolding”. These organs have the potential to be fully customized for each patient. These developments are likely decades away from routine use on actual human patients, but the short- and intermediate-term outlook for small-cap tech firms in the cardiac intervention and transplant market looks very promising.

*Denotes client of Allen & Caron, publisher of this blog.

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