A suggested method to control heart rate pacing and stroke volume in left-ventricular assist devices and for patients undergoing heart transplantation

Controller Design Concept

Update: this weblog article has been updated recently and a PDF of the document along with the new article is available here: Autonomic Heart Rate Controller Device Concept

I present a concept for autonomic cardiac pacing as a method to augment existing physiological pacing for both ventricular assist devices (VAD) and heart transplantations. The following development represents a vision and reflects an area that has yet to be fully exploited in the field. Therefore, the analysis is meant to be a starting point for further study in this area. Furthermore, an automatic control system methodology for both heart rate and contractile force (stroke volume) of patients having either an artificial left ventricular assist device (LVAD) or who have experienced degenerative performance of the Sinoatrial node is suggested. The methodology is described both in terms of a device and associated operational framework, and is based on the use of the naturally-occurring hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine contained in the return blood flow through the superior vena cava. The quantities of these hormones measured in the blood stream are used to derive a proportional response in terms of contractile force and pacing of the Sinoatrial node. The method of control suggests features normally described using cyclic voltammetry, expert systems, and feedback to pacing an artificial assist device.

Autonomic Heart Controller Device Concept

What is an Autonomic Heart Rate Controller?

The idea for extending the performance of left-ventricular assist devices (LVADs) occurred to me more than 15 years ago. The idea led me to write a white paper at that time which has been maintained and archived on this web site.

Discussions regarding heart rate variability (HRV) caused me to research a conceptual controller for autonomic, chemoreceptor-based sinoatrial heart control. As HRV is affected by sympathetic and parasympathetic control, this fact reminded me of a paper (unpublished) which I had written 14 years ago. While I included a web-adaptation of this paper very early in the history of the web log, I never included the actual paper itself. Much has transpired over the years in the regard to medical device integration, control and research into physiologic monitoring. Yet, I have not seen any writing in particular associated or closely related to the topic at hand.

Heart Rate Autonomic Control White Paper

Originally written in August 2002, the attached white paper presents a concept for a mechanism to automatically controller for heart rate pacing and contractile force (stroke volume) of either an artificial left ventricular assist device (LVAD) or a patient’s own heart who has experienced degenerative performance of the Sinoatrial node.

Autonomic control is based on the hormonal action of concentrations of catecholamines within the blood stream. These, in turn, influence the sinoatrial node through uptake. The concept laid out in the attached paper “operates” by analyzing the chemical nature of the epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine content of the return blood flow through the superior vena cava and then using this information via cyclic voltammetry, neural network control, and feedback to the pacing device to control the heart rate of the assist device.

Why Autonomic Control is Potentially Interesting?

The basic premise of left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) and in heart pacing in general is to provide enough contractile force to move blood throughout the system. Most systems these days rely upon vasodilation, which is related to hormones as well as work. Yet, heart contractility is also related to emotion and release of hormones which are unrelated to direct movement or action of the human body. Hence, the idea was to accommodate a more “realistic” concept that took into account not only the contractile or vasodilation / vasoconstriction aspects of the arteries and veins, but also the hormonal changes measured through catecholamine changes in the blood stream. It is recognized that the attached paper is very raw and, clinically, it is somewhat naive. Yet, the objective was to present the idea as a potential starting point for research and, eventually, a product that could extend the performance of existing LVADs to support more human-like, natural behavior of artificial hearts.

Update on measurement of blood enzymes to support autonomic control:

Recently, a team at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland developed an implant to monitor chemicals in the blood. This implant, according to this recent article is reportedly the world’s smallest at 14 mm and measures a maximum of 5 indicators to include troponin, lactase, glucose, ATP, to show whether a heart attack has occurred or to track (in the case of diabetic patients) blood enzymes and protein levels. The information can subsequently be transmitted via Bluetooth to a smartphone for online tracking.

This work is encouraging as it lays the foundation for real-time sensing, data collection and analysis at a level that is necessary for more accurate modeling and monitoring of cardiovascular systems. Such work can lead to earlier detection and more accurate prostheses — particularly, artificial hearts utilizing autonomic control to augment heart rate pacing– as well as more accurate clinical decision support methods that can determine whether patients have experienced critical events. I can see applications to earlier stroke detection where time-is-brain. Such real-time autonomic methods, when integrated with mobile technology and health information technology, can lead to great advances in patient care management through early warning resulting in early intervention.