Students design innovative heart pumps

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A. Sue Weisler | photographer

Jim Cezo and Jackie Sergi explain their team’s machine for testing a magnetically levitated axial-flow left ventricular assist device, an innovative heart pump that could reduce the need for heart transplants

The Kate Gleason College of Engineering’s multidisciplinary senior design program provides a unique opportunity for students to gain hands-on expertise and participate in top-level research while still in college. In addition, a number of the designs created through the program ultimately have significant real-world impacts, enhancing the development of numerous innovations and even saving lives.

For example, a 2008 student design team formulated, developed and constructed a test stand which is being used to measure the performance of a new type of heart pump called a magnetically levitated axial flow left ventricular assist device. The pump, developed by a team led by Steven Day, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is more gentle and durable than other types of devices, improves overall performance of the heart in people with various forms of heart disease and could ultimately reduce the number of patients requiring heart transplants.

“This project has been incredibly gratifying both in allowing all members of the team to work on high-level research and in giving us an opportunity to help make a real difference in people’s lives,” notes Jim Cezo, a fifth-year mechanical engineering major and member of the design team.

“The work of the student team has been tremendous and the device they have developed will be extremely useful in furthering the development of this technology,” adds Day. “I have one other team working on a different aspect of the pump and hope to involve additional multidisciplinary design teams on different aspects of this project as we move forward.”

The test stand simulates the flow of blood in the body, and researchers can vary the pressure of fluids passed through the system to test the heart pump’s performance under a variety of conditions. The device is completely automated and communicates data to computers both on and off campus. Day is using the device to evaluate a prototype version of the pump by running several pumps for two straight years and hopes to begin the process of seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2010.

“This project has been a very rewarding way to engage students through senior design projects, co-op and graduate theses,” says Day. “We hope that the pump developed at RIT might someday be used to save lives and that helps keep everyone motivated.”