UH Moment

UH Moment: “Heart Research”

Patients on transplant lists to receive donor hearts can spend the rest of their lives waiting.  Research at the University of Houston, in partnership with the Texas Medical Center, could yield a life-saving bridge to such a transplant. Find out more in today’s UH Moment. Pictured left: UH Professors Matthew Franchek and Ralph Metcalfe hold a device similar to the less costly, smaller, pulse-less, artificial heart they are teaming with area medical experts to create. (photo credit Tom Shea)

Life sciences and medicine meet engineering and mathematics in research by the University of Houston, in partnership with the Texas Medical Center. 

“Developing an effective, artificial mechanical heart could be a huge breakthrough,” said Ralph Metcalf, professor of mechanical engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering.  “It would have a huge impact on hundreds of thousands of people.” 

Metcalf and colleague Matthew Franchek, chair of the department of engineering and director of the biomedical engineering program, are part of an interdisciplinary research team that’s bringing a new perspective to artificial heart technology.

“Looking at the body that the heart is in and understanding it through mathematics—that’s what Dr. Metcalf’s going to do,” said Franchek.  “I can take our control systems, and I can take a look at how the heart sees this patient and make this heart tailor-made.”

Franchek and Metcalf are named in a nearly $3,000,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health and will work with the Texas Medical Center team to create a continuous flow ventricular assist device that will bridge the time a heart patient spends on the donor list.  The prestigious team includes Dr. O.H. Frazier, chief of the Center for Cardiac Support and director of Surgical Research at the Texas Heart Institute; professors from Rice University; Texas Heart Institute physicians; and MicroMed Technology Inc.

Franchek says the results can be profound within the overlap of medicine and engineering.

“But it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute so directly to an unknown, untapped, unfilled humanitarian cause,” he said.   

Matthew Franchek and Ralph Metcalf are part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.