Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Inventions: Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump

Inventors: Professor Arthur Kantrowitz and Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz

LIFESAVERS: The Kantrowitz brothers, Adrian, left, and Arthur, right, helped heart patients. Photograph by Ralph Morse/Time & Life Pictures.
LIFESAVERS: The Kantrowitz brothers, Adrian, left, and Arthur, right, helped heart patients. Photograph by Ralph Morse/Time & Life Pictures.

A dynamic duo for solving problems of engineering in medicine, Thayer professor Arthur Kantrowitz and his brother Adrian learned early on that Arthur’s passion for physics and Adrian’s interest in medicine could combine into a powerful force for innovation.

As kids they built an electrocardiograph machine out of old radio parts, and later — when Adrian became a doctor and Arthur a professor of engineering physics — they paved the way for open-heart surgery with their early version of a heart-lung machine. Their projects together continued from there. They developed a left ventricular assist device, introduced electrical stimulation of paralyzed muscles, pioneered the implantable pacemaker, and invented the intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP).

IABP is a small balloon that fits in the aorta and counter-pulsates with the heart. This action both decreases myocardial oxygen demand and increases myocardial oxygen supply. A computer controls the flow of helium into and out of the balloon. Helium is used because its low viscosity allows it to travel quickly through the long connecting tubes and lowers the risk of rupturing the balloon and causing a harmful embolism.

The IABP is credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives. The device was used on Arthur himself to ease the effects of heart failure during his final hours. Both brothers died in November 2008, just 15 days apart. [See In Memoriam.]

—Catharine Lamm

For more photos, visit our Engineering in Medicine, Faculty and Instructors, and Research and Innovations Flickr page.

Categories: Inventions

Tags: faculty, history, innovation, projects, research

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