A heart ‘plug’ that could save thousands of lives

Imagine a snowmobiler in Northern Ontario sledding through the woods. All of a sudden, he loses control and careens into the trees. Branches shatter and a splinter punctures the driver’s heart.

The snowmobiler is hundreds of kilometres away from a surgeon skilled enough to repair the wound. But what if emergency staff at the nearest hospital could at least stop the blood loss, and stabilize him enough so he could be airlifted to a major urban hospital where specialists could perform traumatic cardiac surgery?

A team based at St. Michael’s Hospital has invented a heart “plug” they believe can help trauma surgeons do just that. Inventorr M.D. is a company co-founded by Dr. Ori Rotstein, St. Michael’s Vice President of Research and Innovation, trauma surgeon and scientist Dr. Rezende-Neto and CEO Chris Bass. Inventorr M.D. was one of the first cohort of companies to participate in our Centre’s ECHO program, with provides entrepreneurial training to help bring cardiovascular innovations to market.

With six devices now under patent, Inventorr M.D. takes inventive ideas from busy doctors and bridges the gap from research to product. One of those products is the heart plug.

Saving lives in the ER

Cardiac trauma is the second-most common cause of death among trauma victims. Injuries to the heart, such as a shrapnel or stab wound, are highly lethal due to the massive bleeding that occurs.

“There is a high fatality rate because people often don’t reach the hospital in time to stop the blood loss,” Dr. Rezende-Neto says. “Even if a patient does make it to the ER, their chances of dying are still high, due to the complexity of surgically repairing the injury and the lack of medical devices designed to assist in this procedure – which we think is unacceptable.”

With no device currently on the market to stop a bleeding heart, the only effective solution is to stitch the wound closed. Yet, based on its complexity and rarity, it is beyond the skill of many trauma surgeons except those in a cardiac-specialty hospital – where one might meet someone like Dr. Joao Rezende-Neto. The St. Michael’s Hospital trauma surgeon originally envisioned this type of heart plug, having spent 25 years operating at a major centre in Brazil.

Their plug is intended to stabilize a patient whose heart has a hole in it and whose blood pressure is flattening. In this dire situation, trauma doctors currently have inadequate options to help keep patients alive – efforts such as pinching it by hand or employing a surgical clamp or urinary catheter risk impeding cardiac function. The heart plug, instead, can seal the hole from the inside, holding cardiac tissue in place. In doing so, it importantly does not impair the heart’s function.

“This device can save lives in the ER by stabilizing the heart so that teams can treat other urgent issues such as a deflated lung or punctured liver,” Bass says.

The prototype is remarkably simple, with plastic and suction cups that work surprisingly well in swine models. With a manufacturer in place, the plan is to bring to market an effective and inexpensive product. “We believe this device has the potential to save thousands of lives,” Dr. Rotstein says.

Giving doctors the space to innovate

Bass says that Inventorr M.D. enables doctors to follow through with a solution they find for a problem they deal with in the clinic. Their organization, embedded in St. Michael’s Hospital, brings innovations from research concept through to being potentially market-ready.

“It’s difficult for Dr. Rezende-Neto and Dr. Rotstein to have ideas on how to solve a problem and improve patient care, and not be able to achieve the vision,” Bass says. “They are understandably passionate about saving patients through innovative means.”