Great Lives from History: Inventors and Inventions
American scientist and zoologist
Jarvik's work on artificial hearts resulted in the Jarvik-7, which kept terminally ill heart patients alive for as long as 620 days and encouraged other researchers in their quest to find permanent replacement hearts for the growing number of heart patients.
Born: May 11, 1946; Midland, Michigan
Also Known As: Robert Koffler Jarvik (full name)
Primary Fields: Medicine and medical technology
Primary Invention: Jarvik-7 artificial heart
Robert Koffler Jarvik was born in Midland, Michigan, but his parents (Norman Eugene Jarvik, a physician, and Edythe Koffler Jarvik) moved to Stamford, Connecticut, where his father became a prominent surgeon. In elementary school, young Jarvik built model airplanes and ships and displayed great manual dexterity. He said that he was always taking things apart and reassembling them in his mind. Before he graduated from high school, Jarvik, who often observed his father's operations, was interested in medicine, but he was even more concerned with building things and solving problems. His first invention, which he patented, was a time-saving automatic surgical stapling machine to replace the slow sewing by hand that was required to bind blood vessels together and to close wounds.
When he enrolled at Syracuse University in 1964, he was not intent on a medical career; but after studying different subjects without making real efforts, he chose zoology for a major. His change of major was caused by his father's near-fatal aortic aneurism. Jarvik then intended to enter medical school in order to solve heart problems. Unfortunately, the weak grades he received before deciding on a medical career prevented him from being accepted to American medical schools. As a result, he studied medicine at the University of Bologna for two years before returning to the United States to again apply to medical schools. When he was rejected again, he studied occupational biomechanics at New York University, where he received his master of arts degree in 1971. He was working at Ethicon, Inc., when his boss presented him with an opportunity to work, for a salary provided by the company, at the University of Utah's Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Division of Artificial Organs, headed by Dr. Willem Kolff. Because working at the institute would improve his chances for medical school admission, Jarvik applied for a job and was hired as a laboratory assistant in 1971.
Jarvik worked with Kolff, the man who had devised the first working artificial kidney and invented the world's first working kidney dialysis machine. Kolff then began work on creating artificial hearts. In 1957, he constructed an artificial heart that he implanted into a dog, which survived for ninety minutes. After he left the Cleveland, Ohio, clinic for the University of Utah, he began work on an artificial human heart, but progress was slow until Jarvik joined the team.
At first, Jarvik worked on devising an artificial heart for a calf and improved on some of the designs of Dr. Clifford Kwan-Gett, a colleague at Utah. By substituting biomer, a Lycra-like elastic, for rubber, he was able to prevent the blood clotting that had caused the deaths of lab animals in earlier experiments. His Jarvik-3 artificial heart (designed in 1972) allowed the calf to live ninety days. He then turned his attention to an artificial human heart and was in competition with the work being done at the Baylor-Rice Artificial Heart Program in Houston, Texas. His Jarvik-7 was still another improvement, and it allowed a calf to live 268 days with the artificial heart in 1976, the same year he finished medical school and became an associate in Kolff's new company, Kolff Associates, later Kolff Medical, Inc. Three years later, he was a research assistant professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Kolff's first request to implant an artificial heart into a human being was denied by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1979, but he got the necessary approval in 1981. The FDA approval, however, depended on the team using a class IV patient, someone over eighteen years of age who could not live after being taken off a heart-lung machine after open-heart surgery. Barney Clark was the patient, and Dr. William Castle DeVries implanted the Jarvik-7 in him in December, 1982. For his work, Jarvik was named "inventor of the year" by the Intellectual Property Owners Association in 1982 and by the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1983. During the 1980's, he also received two honorary doctorates, one from his alma mater, Syracuse University, in 1983, and the other from the Hahnemann School of Medicine in 1985.
In the year before the Clark operation, Jarvik persuaded Kolff to name him president of Kolff Medical, Inc., which was renamed Symbion. The attractive, articulate Jarvik was a born fund-raiser, and with businessman W. Edward Massey he began to raise capital. The second operation (1984) was on William Schroeder, who survived for 620 days. Schroeder was the world's longest-surviving recipient of an artificial heart. Two other men died shortly after having Jarvik-7 implants. In 1987, the year Jarvik married Marilyn vos Savant, the brilliant "Ask Marilyn" columnist for Parade magazine, Symbion was acquired by a New York firm that subsequently fired Jarvik. The FDA shut the Jarvik-7 experiment down in 1990, and Jarvik moved to Houston, where he worked at the Texas Heart Institute and St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. His next invention was the Jarvik 2000, a "bridge" between transplants that involves implanting a pump in the patient's left ventricle.
In 2006, Jarvik received a $1.35 million contract to become the television spokesperson for Pfizer's Lipitor, a best-selling drug used to lower cholesterol. His ads, which dramatically increased sales of the drug, came under fire because he wore a physician's uniform and was photographed rowing a boat. A double for Jarvik rowed the boat, and since Jarvik was never licensed to practice medicine (he never completed an internship or a residency, although he did complete medical school), his advice was construed as practicing without a license. Initially, Pfizer defended the ads, and Jarvik noted that he was a doctor and added that he was a medical scientist, not a practical doctor. Pfizer announced in February, 2008, that it was discontinuing the Jarvik ads.
Although Barney Clark's death was followed by others, none of whom lived more than William Schroeder's 620 days, and although the FDA rescinded its approval of the Jarvik-7 for human implantation in 1990, Robert Jarvik's artificial heart spurred additional research in the use of artificial human hearts. The controversy surrounding the Jarvik-7 was responsible for bringing attention to the ethical, legal, and psychological issues involved in transplants and resulted in closer supervision of FDA approval procedures.
During the 1990's, Jarvik began developing the Jarvik 2000, a heart assist device that is placed in the patient's left ventricle, where its propeller pumps up to 1,500 gallons of blood daily. The device received FDA approval as a "bridge" between heart transplants. In 2006, researchers at Abiomed received FDA approval for their AbioCor replacement heart. Their artificial heart, made of plastic and titanium, is the size of a softball and weighs approximately three pounds. Unlike the Jarvik-7, it has an internal power source that allows it to work for up to thirty minutes. It also has power supplied by batteries that are attached to a belt. The improvements were made possible by the research inspired by Jarvik's work. Other medical advances in artificial hearts may ultimately save thousands of lives.
Thomas L. ErskineFurther Reading
Bankston, John. Robert Jarvik and the Artificial Heart. Bear, Del.: Mitchell Lane, 2003. Designed for the nonspecialist, the book provides details about Jarvik's career as well as Kolff's and provides information about earlier attempts at designing an artificial human heart. Includes a short bibliography and time lines for both Jarvik's life and artificial heart developments.
Berger, Melvin. The Artificial Heart. New York: Franklin Watts, 1987. In addition to devoting a chapter to the Barney Clark heart transplant, Berger explores the legal, psychological, and ethical issues involved in heart transplants and calls for the timely establishment of guidelines for patients considering such heart surgery.
Chung, Edward K. One Heart, One Life. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1982. Written before the first implant of the Jarvik-7, the book provides helpful information about the dangers of heart transplants and also explains in detail how the human heart functions.
Fox, Renée C., and Judith P. Swazey. Spare Parts: Organ Replacement in American Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Using the Jarvik-7 artificial heart as a kind of "test case," the authors examine the ethical and humanistic issues involved in the transplanting of human organs. Contains criticism of the rush to do the first implant.
Shaw, Margery W., ed. After Barney Clark: Reflections on the Utah Artificial Heart Program. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984. A collection of essays from a variety of perspectives and raising questions about governmental, sociological, legal, ethical, scientific, and economic issues relating to heart transplants. Contains two appendixes, one a consent form for implantation of artificial hearts, the other a bibliography of the works published by Dr. William Castle DeVries, the surgeon who implanted the Jarvik-7 into Barney Clark.
See Also: Wilson Greatbatch; John Alexander Hopps; Willem Johan Kolff; Paul Winchell.
SALEM PRESS, a division of EBSCO Publishing. · 131 North El Molino Avenue · Pasadena · CA 91101
© Salem Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.