In the US alone, thousands are currently waiting for organ transplants, and an average of 17 people die each day because they've run out of time – and that's why the development of artificial organs is such an important field of research.
Now a team of surgeons has successfully completed the first human implantation in the US of an artificial heart device called the 'Aeson', developed by French company CARMAT. The artificial heart has two ventricular chambers and four biological valves, just like the real organ, and is powered by an external device.
Made from "biocompatible materials" including bovine tissue, the artificial heart uses a combination of sensors and algorithms to maintain its pace and keep blood circulating through the body.
"We are encouraged that our patient is doing so well after the procedure," says cardiologist Carmelo Milano from the Duke University School of Medicine. "As we evaluate this device, we are both excited and hopeful that patients who otherwise have few to no options could have a lifeline."
The patient in question is 39-year-old Matthew Moore, from Shallotte in North Carolina. Moore was initially due to have heart bypass surgery, but as his condition deteriorated the medical staff started to run out of options; he became so ill that even a regular heart transplant was too risky.
Fortunately, he was in the right place: the Aeson device is being tested at Duke University, pending approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It's already been given the green light for use by regulators in Europe, after several years of tests in European patients, not all of which have been successful.
The artificial heart has been developed specifically to help those whose hearts can no longer pump enough blood through both chambers. It replaces the entire natural heart, although it's not intended to be permanent – it's designed to be a bridge towards a full heart transplant within six months or so.
"Because of the shortages of donor hearts, many patients die while waiting for a heart transplant," says cardiologist Jacob Schroder from Duke University School of Medicine. "We are hopeful for new options to help these patients, many like Mr Moore who have devastating disease and cannot otherwise be considered for a transplant."
This is just one device for one particular organ: other research teams are working on other body parts that can potentially step in when particular parts of our bodies fail us. If the technology can be developed successfully and safely, the potential benefits are huge.
The FDA has approved US trials of the CARMAT artificial heart, which will involve 10 patients with end-stage biventricular heart failure, and assess whether the Aeson can act as a way of prolonging life before a heart transplant can happen.
For now, Matthew Moore will have to carry around a controller and a pack of rechargeable batteries to keep Aeson working – but he is still alive, and the technology keeping him alive could go on to save thousands of other lives in the future, if further tests of the device turn out to be positive.
"Both Matthew and I are so grateful that we've been provided an opportunity to participate in something that has the potential to have an impact on so many lives," says Matthew's wife, Rachel Moore, a practicing nurse.
"We are just taking it day-by-day and hope everything continues to progress well."