A team of University of Bath students are creating a working artificial heart as part of a worldwide ‘Heart Hackathon’ competition.

Team Bath Heart (TBH) is seeking to design, prototype and test a fully working artificial heart in the contest, the final of which takes place in Texas in October.

The 30-strong student-led team, made up of students studying electrical, mechanical and robotics engineering, will compete against seven other teams from countries including Australia, Egypt, Sweden and the USA in the Heart Hackathon, as the UK’s sole representatives.

Artificial hearts are already used in medicine to treat patients with certain cardiovascular diseases, usually while waiting for a donor heart to be found, or to help their heart recover.

Competition builds real-world skills

The Heart Hackathon competition aims to nurture the next generation of medical and cardiovascular innovators. Student-led teams are tasked with designing, prototyping and evaluating their own Total Artificial Heart before their efforts are judged by international experts.

As a Total Artificial Heart, the device will be able to do the whole job of a native heart – going beyond the capability of a Ventricular Assist Device, which only augments the function of one chamber of the heart.

Fleur Upton, the team’s Project Manager, says they are gaining real-world problem-solving experience, while helping to find solutions to advanced heart failure.

She says: “I gained experience of project managing technical teams while on my placement and Team Bath Heart allows me to apply that in a real-life situation, and in a setting that could make an impact on healthcare and patients in the future.

“Everyone on the team has the same end goal – to create life-saving technology.”

Team member Francisco Nabais adds: “We are lucky to have a lot of really interesting student teams here at Bath, but in our case the fact our work could potentially help seriously ill people is very appealing.”

The artificial heart the Bath team is designing is comprised of a range of cutting-edge medical-grade materials, robotics technologies and features including automatic flow rate adjustment to respond just as a real heart does.

Dr Katharine Fraser, a Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering and the team’s academic supervisor, says: “It’s inspiring to see the work the team is doing and the approach they’re taking. My own research is in the field of artificial heart and vascular technologies, and while they have existed for a few years now it’s wonderful to see how the team is approaching the same problems we researchers are investigating.

“Medical engineering and technologies like these have massive industrial potential, so as well as gaining great problem-solving and management experience in entering the competition, the team are also building really relevant skills for their future careers.”

Building on student team success

TBH is hoping to build on the success of other student engineering teams at the University of Bath, which build and compete in competition series for motorsports, motorcycle racing, air and marine drone racing, and in rockets.

Fleur adds: “There’s a strong history of successful student engineering teams at Bath, and we want to make sure the team is sustainable and keeps entering this competition year in, year out.

“We are aiming to build new relationships with sponsors and companies locally and beyond who can help us financially or with in-kind support such as materials, software licences or expertise that we can learn from and apply in our artificial heart.”

Interested parties, companies or prospective sponsors can contact Team Bath Heart at TeamBathHeart@bath.ac.uk.