When children are born with a missing heart ventricle, doctors can perform a Fontan surgical procedure; the operation creates a passive circulation network to replace the blood pumping function. Inefficiency in circulation, however, often increases over time. A heart pump motor, using NASA Glenn Research Center’s flywheel technology, will help patients live into adulthood.

Dr. Mark Rodefeld developed an idea to insert a small conical pump, driven by an electrical motor, into an existing Fontan network. The pump reproduces the pressures and flow coming from the body and head, reducing the wear and tear on the single remaining ventricle and extend the life of the patient.

“I knew I wanted to put a bi-conical motor into the cross section of the network, but I needed experts in flywheel technology at NASA Glenn to design and scale it to size,” said Rodefeld.

A team of engineers at Glenn spent two years designing, building, and testing a bi-conical heart pump for Rodefeld. Eventually the team completed a functional prototype of the bi-conical heart pump to allow for traditional motor operation as well as levitation operation.

Unlike conventional motors, the outside rotor of the pump spins around the inside, enabling complex fluid pump shapes to be created on the surface of the rotor. The shapes then "grab" blood coming from the body and head, and then direct it to lungs for oxygenation.

Over the next few years, Rodefeld hopes to engage Glenn engineers in additional development and testing.