(AP) _ A Massachusetts company received federal approval today to sell up to 4,000 artificial hearts a year, though the number of devices implanted annually will likely be far smaller.
The hearts would be used only in patients who are close to death and have no other treatment options.
The Food and Drug Administration granted Abiomed Inc. a humanitarian exemption allowing it to sell the devices, agency spokeswoman Susan Bro said. The actual number of the devices, called the AbioCor, to be implanted likely will be small _ between just 25 and 50 a year, Bro said.
So far, the artificial heart has been tested in only 14 men. Two died from the operation, and another never regained consciousness. The rest survived only an average of five months, with one exception: a man who lived 17 months, until the mechanical heart wore out.
The company said earlier that it would begin implanting the artificial hearts at five hospitals around the country, once doctor training is complete. The devices are fully contained within the chest, with no outside wires.
Abiomed is targeting men with heart failure who are too sick for a heart transplant, have exhausted other options and are likely to die within a month. The current device is too large for women and many men. The company is developing a smaller version.
In 2005, an FDA panel of outside experts voted against recommending Abiomed be given permission to sell the device in limited numbers.