Robert K. Jarvik Biography (1946-)

physician, biomedical engineer, inventor

Physician Robert K. Jarvik is designer and biomedical engineer of the first artificial heart used as a permanent implant in a human being. The device, named Jarvik-7, was implanted in Barney Clark on December 2, 1982, at theUniversity of Utah Medical Center. Mr. Clark lived 112 days with the artificial heart. Jarvik has also performed research on other artificial organs andis author of more than 60 technical articles. He holds a number of patents onmedical devices and has received numerous awards, including two citations of"Inventor of the Year"--from Intellectual Property Owners in 1982 and from National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1983. Jarvik also holds honorary doctoratesfrom Syracuse University and Hahnemann University, presented in 1983 and 1985 respectively.

Robert Koffler Jarvik was born May 11, 1946, in Midland, Michigan, son of physician Norman Eugene Jarvik and Edythe Koffler Jarvik, and was raised in Stamford, Connecticut. As a teenager, Jarvik was a tinkerer and inventor. He watched his father in surgery and before he graduated from high school had invented an automatic stapler for use during surgery, which would replace the process of manually sewing up living body parts. He entered Syracuse University in1964 and took courses in mechanical drawing and architecture, but his father's heart disease prompted him to change his course of study. Jarvik began premedical course work and graduated in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in zoology. His immediate plans were stalled when mediocre grades prevented him from acceptance into an American medical school. As an alternative, he attended medical school at the University of Bologna in Italy. After two years he returnedto the United States to pursue a degree in occupational biomechanics at NewYork University, receiving an M.A. in 1971.

Shortly following graduation, Jarvik was hired as an assistant design engineer at the University of Utah by Willem Kolff, a leading expert in the development of artificial organs. Dr. Kolff had been working on inventing an artificial heart since the mid-1950s. In 1967 he had been appointed head of a new division at the University of Utah, which became known as the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. Its primary project was to develop an artificial heart.

Jarvik's achievements in biomedical engineering are closely tied to his employment at the institute, as it was headed by a world expert on man-made organswho had been working on developing an artificial heart for more than fifteenyears, and had the full institutional support of the University of Utah, anessential condition for such a large-scale and complex medical project. Jarvik's inventive genius soon solved several problems associated with the devices. By the early 1980s, Jarvik developed an artificial heart that could be implanted in a human being. While working at the institute, Jarvik received his M.D. from the University of Utah in 1976.

The artificial heart program at the Utah institute aimed to re-create the lower two chambers or ventricles of the heart, which comprise the pumping portion of the organ. Creating the pump with a suitable power-source was the majorobstacle facing the project. The ideal solution was considered a single unitcontaining both the pump and the power source that would be completely encased in the recipient's body. Before Jarvik arrived, Kolff had worked hard to create an electrical power source and, after failing at that, a nuclear one. When this strategy also failed, Kolff decided to concentrate on the pump and torely on power from compressed air from a machine outside the body connectedby tubes to the artificial heart. Scientifically, the decision was sound, asit divided a complex problem into two simpler parts. In practicality, however, it meant that recipients of the artificial heart would be permanently attached by tubes to a machine.

When Jarvik arrived at the institute, he immediately began working on the "Kwann-Gett heart," which was designed in 1971 by a member of Kolff's team, Clifford S. Kwann-Gett . This device used a rubber diaphragm as the pumping element that forced blood in and out of the artificial heart. The diaphragm represented an improvement in that it lowered the possibility of mechanical failure. However, it also caused blood to clot on its surface, which could cause death. Jarvik's improved version, called the "Jarvik-3," was shaped to better fit the anatomy of the experimental animals. In addition, the rubber of the diaphragm had been replaced by three highly flexible layers of a smooth polyurethane called 'biomer,' which eliminated the clotting problem. By the mid-1970s, Jarvik was working on a version intended for the human body. The plastic and aluminum device would replace the lower pumping chambers, known as the ventricles, and would be attached to the two upper chambers of the heart known asthe atria, which receive blood from the veins. Such a device, called the "Jarvik-7," was implanted into Barney Clark on December 2, 1982.

Clark was a 61-year-old retired dentist suffering from cardiomyopathy,a degenerative disease of the heart muscles. He was a terminally ill man whobelieved that the experimental surgery would give him hope and would also contribute to the progress of medical science. In a seven and a half hour operation performed by surgeon William C. DeVries with assistance from Jarvik, Clark's ventricles were replaced by the Jarvik-7 which was driven by an outsideair-compressor connected to the artificial heart by tubes. The surgery received world-wide publicity. Shortly after the operation, Clark suffered from disabling brain seizures. He died less than four months later. The artificial heart itself (except for a malfunctioning valve, which was replaced) functionedthroughout, and was still pumping when Clark died of multiple organ failure.The surgery performed on Clark has provoked debate concerning various issuesof medical ethics.

In 1976, Jarvik became a vice-president of Symbion, Inc., (originally known as Kolff Associates) an artificial organs research firm founded by Dr. Kolff.Jarvik was an aggressive officer of the company, and was appointed presidentin 1981. Seeking venture capital, Jarvik arranged a deal with an outside investment firm in which Kolff was to be deliberately excluded from direct management of the company. The move became the source of friction between Kolff andJarvik, but has since been resolved. Under Jarvik's direction, the company branched out to include development and manufacturing of other organs, including an artificial ear.

After Barney Clark's surgery, a number of other modified Jarvik hearts were implanted but none of the recipients lived more than 620 days. The Jarvik-7 was also frequently and more successfully used as a temporary measure for patients awaiting a natural heart transplant. After Jarvik's own departure from the University of Utah and Symbion in 1987, the Jarvik-7 artificial heart did not fare well. Federal funding for the Jarvik project stopped in 1988, and artificial heart implantation was restricted to temporary implantation only. In1990, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) withdrew approval for theexperimental use of the Jarvik-7, citing Symbion's poor quality control in the manufacturing process and inadequate service of equipment.

In 1987, Jarvik moved to New York City where he became president of his own company, Jarvik Research, Inc. In the same year, he married Marilyn vos Savant, a writer who is reported by the Guinness Book of World Records tohave the highest IQ score in the world and whose writings include a well-known column in Parade magazine. Jarvik had been previously married to journalist Elaine Levin, with whom he had two children, Tyler and Kate. Jarvikcontinued artificial heart research, concentrating on the Jarvik 2000, described by Julie Baumgard in New York as a "rotary hydrodynamic axial-flow pump" in which "the valves have been eliminated and the whole device miniaturized." Based on principles quite different from the Jarvik-7, both the pumpand its power source would be implanted entirely inside the heart. In an article in After Barney Clark, contributor Renée C. Fox described Jarvik as the "boyishly glamorous culture hero of bioengineering in whom the values of the 1960s and of the 1980s seem to be joined." Jarvik's interestsare skiing, weight-lifting, poetry, art, sculpting, and physics.

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