Early last year, Catharina Hospital shared some big news with the world. In the media the headline was: “A world first at Catharina Hospital: Innovative method allows local cooling of the heart.

The event coincided with cardiologist-intensivist Luuk Otterspoor obtaining his PhD. We at LifeTec Group obviously didn’t want to disturb this flow of festive news, the PhD ceremony and the wave of publicity and follow-up studies that was about to wash over Luuk Otterspoor at the time. So we delayed the publication of an interview we had with him shortly before his ceremony - until now:

Better treatment of infarctions through successful collaboration Catharina Hospital and LifeTec Group

Text: Koen Chatrou

Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven is the number one cardiovascular centre in the Netherlands. In addition to cardiovascular surgery, the centre also does a great deal of cardiovascular research. For the cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons and vascular surgeons, this regularly involves working with LifeTec Group, a medtech company also based in Eindhoven. Cardiologists Lokien van Nunen and Luuk Otterspoor (Catharina Ziekenhuis) and LifeTec Group’s Head of Medtech Innovation Marco Stijnen put their heads together.

This successful collaboration enables us to further improve the treatment of infarctions.

Catharina Hospital - Eindhoven - The Netherlands

Every year thousands of patients are treated for heart disease or vascular disease at Catharina Ziekenhuis in Eindhoven. Many cases involve infarctions: tissue death in the heart muscle caused by an obstruction in the coronary artery.

It’s always a dramatic event in the life of a patient, but most infarctions are very treatable,” Luuk Otterspoor explains. “If we move fast, for example with percutaneous angioplasty, the damage can be restricted.

Prevent swelling

According to Otterspoor, even better results may be achieved in the future. “I’m working on a study into localised cooling of the heart muscle, right where the infarction is. By cooling down this part of the heart to 32 degrees Celsius we can further limit the damage.” Otterspoor compares it to a sprained ankle. “A sprain causes swelling very soon after the accident. Something similar happens during an infarction. My hypothesis is that this swelling is responsible for part of the (permanent) damage. Damage that can be prevented with careful cooling.

  • "I’m working on a study into localised cooling of the heart muscle, right where the infarction is. By cooling down this part of the heart to 32 degrees Celsius we can further limit the damage.” -dr. Luuk Otterspoor-
    "I’m working on a study into localised cooling of the heart muscle, right where the infarction is. By cooling down this part of the heart to 32 degrees Celsius we can further limit the damage.” -dr. Luuk Otterspoor-
    "I’m working on a study into localised cooling of the heart muscle, right where the infarction is. By cooling down this part of the heart to 32 degrees Celsius we can further limit the damage.” -dr. Luuk Otterspoor-

For this research Otterspoor uses PhysioHeart™, the beating heart platform created by LifeTec Group. It consists of a pig’s heart from the slaughterhouse that is brought back to life at the LifeTec Group lab. Otterspoor: “It gives me and other researchers the opportunity to test new treatments or devices in a real-life situation. Also, you can approach the heart from any angle because there’s no body ‘in the way’. I needed that for my research. I was able to map the different temperatures through the use of a meat thermometer, for instance. And that obviously isn’t possible with a test animal.” The first results of Otterspoor’s study are promising. If further studies go according to plan, Otterspoor expects the method to be ready for application within the next four years. “The combination of cooling the heart and then performing percutaneous angioplasty may save hundreds of lives every year.

dr. Lokien van Nunen, prof. Nico Pijls, dr. Frederik Zimmerman
Save lives

Just as promising, if not more so, are the results of studies done by cardiologist Lokien van Nunen. Over the past few years he focused on proving the merits of the IABP, the intra-aortic balloon pump. Since the 1960s, IABPs have been used for large numbers of cardiac patients to support the heart function, for instance after an infarction and/or heart surgery.

The pump guarantees better circulation of the coronary arteries and a better oxygen supply to the heart. The idea is to improve the pumping activity of the left ventricle.

Even so, the effectiveness of IABPs was always a point of debate. Clinical studies into the performance of the pump, done in 2011 and 2013, appeared to demonstrate that IABPs had little or no effect. Several experts, among them professor Nico Pijls of Catharina Hospital, were convinced that these results were faulty because the studies were not done correctly. He set out to prove this theory together with Van Nunen and with the assistance of LifeTec Group.

We wanted reliable results, so we needed a test environment as close to reality as possible. That’s how we got to PhysioHeart™, the beating heart platform offered by LifeTec Group. PhysioHeart™ allows for testing the heart (in this case a pig’s heart, ed.) in various physiological conditions. That way we could get results for the pump in a healthy heart, a heart in a re-shock condition, and a heart in a full-blown state of shock.” 

The outcome of this study was significantly different from the clinical studies done in 2011 and 2013. “Our results show that IABPs are very effective indeed for those patients suffering from ischemia, poor blood circulation in the heart.” The results of the Pijls - Van Nunen study have far-reaching consequences. “We have demonstrated that the pump is indeed valuable for a certain target group. Those patients will now have an IABP inserted as a standard procedure. For the remaining patients the pump had little extra value.

  • “We wanted reliable results, so we needed a test environment as close to reality as possible. That’s how we got to PhysioHeart™, the beating heart platform offered by LifeTec Group...."
    “We wanted reliable results, so we needed a test environment as close to reality as possible. That’s how we got to PhysioHeart™, the beating heart platform offered by LifeTec Group...."
    “We wanted reliable results, so we needed a test environment as close to reality as possible. That’s how we got to PhysioHeart™, the beating heart platform offered by LifeTec Group...."

Both Otterspoor and Van Nunen are very pleased with the efforts made by LifeTec Group. "Thanks to the beating heart platform as well as the professional assistance of Marco and his team we were able to get some fantastic results.” Marco Stijnen is happy that LifeTec Group proved helpful in the work of the Catharina Hospital cardiologists. “These studies have shown once again that our platforms are extremely suitable for testing devices.” Van Nunen concludes: “Our successful collaboration means we can contribute to reducing the number of deaths in cardiac patients. That’s our common goal, that’s where we find each other.

Please do not hesitate to contact Marco Stijnen if you require any further information:

Head of MedTech Innovation
Marco Stijnen
Call at +31 40 298 93 93 or e-mail us

Relevant links and background information:

- "First Human Heart Study at LifeTec Group's lab" [link]

- "A world first at Catharina Hospital: innovative method allowas local cooling of the heart" [link]

- "Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump: The end of a debate" [link]

- PhysioHeart™ [link]

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