Venture into the unknown at the strong request of the medical world
The heart plays an important role in bringing blood containing oxygen and nutrition to all parts of the body while repeating contraction and relaxation. The heart was regarded as a difficult organ to deal with, but research and development on artificial hearts was conducted commonly at home and abroad after the 1950's.
The central figure of artificial heart research in Japan was Kazuhiko Atsumi, a medical officer at the University of Tokyo's Faculty of Medicine. Serving as the president of the International Society for Artificial Organs, he was an authority in the artificial organ community. Dr. Atsumi was an alumnus of a junior high school under the old system with Tezuka Osamu, the author of “Astro Boy”, and became a model for Dr. Ochanomizu.
In autumn 1958, it was Special Pump Co., Ltd. (the predecessor of Nikkiso, hereinafter referred to as “Nikkiso”) that offered cooperation from the industry for the development of artificial hearts undertaken by Dr. Atsumi, although the company was completely unconnected with medical care.
Encouraged by a comment saying, “The heart is a specialized pump”
The request to “manufacture an experimental model of an artificial heart” was so unexpected that we showed reluctance, as industrial pumps were our main products. However, Dr. Atsumi visited us zealously ten times and said, “The heart is a specialized pump”, which finally pushed us to take on a difficult challenge outside our field.
When we started development, we faced various difficulties such as selection of materials, waveform display methods, and fragility with respect to pressure. However, employees' passion to challenge the unknown territory solved one of the problems, which led to the completion of the first experimental model of an artificial heart in July 1960. In an animal experiment conducted in December of that year, a dog with an artificial heart survived for 5 hours and 30 minutes without its own heart, successfully marking an epochal record increase. We conducted experiments until 1962 and announced the results to the ASAIO (American Society for Artificial Internal Organs) the next year, which drew an enthusiastic response and received a lot of publicity in the media in Japan as an epoch-making event.
Through the development of the artificial heart, we learned that industrial pump manufacturing know-how can be applied to the field of “protecting lives”. This experience, which gave us a strong impression, paved the way to enter the medical field on a full-scale basis.