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Sulzer spinoff's pump gentler on blood

The pump does not damage blood cells. Sulzer

Levitronix GmbH, a spinoff of Sulzer Electronics has announced an innovative pump that improves the preservation of blood pulsing from heart/lung machines into the veins of patients.

This content was published on March 21, 2002 - 08:45

A team of researchers at a Zurich based startup called Levitronix GmbH has come up with a better blood pump. The invention is based on a motor that has no ball bearings. Because there are no bearings that rotate and "squeeze" the blood, there is less chance that red blood cells, or hemoglobin, will be destroyed, say the pump's inventors.

The pump is used in heart and lung machines, as well as other types of machines needed in hospitals to pump blood. It could even prove to be a basis technology for artificial hearts. There is a real shortage of hearts for transplant patients, so doctors and researchers around the world are working frantically to seek a durable, reliable heart replacement technology.

Prize winning pioneering technology

Levitronix won industry recognition this week in a pioneering technology contest held by Technopark Foundation and the Zurich Cantonal bank (ZKB). The Pioneer Prize is more than just a SFr30,000 award, say its organizers.

"It is about promoting cutting edge research and innovation that can be commercialized," says Dominique Friedli, ZKB's project manager for the prize.

Levitronix makes pumps for other applications, as well, but this one is innovative and cunningly designed for the medical industry so that it is cheap to make and has disposable parts. " It is the kind of technological development that is the engine of growth for this region, and we want to inspire other management teams to undertake such endeavors," says Friedli.

Levitating rotors

Levitronix GmbH is a spinoff of Sulzer, the more than 150 year-old Swiss engineering firm that has been divesting itself into smaller, independent firms in recent years. Its spinoffs include makers of solar cells, giant oil and gas pumps, and hip replacement joints, to name but a few.

Like its name suggests, Levitronix has something to do with levitation, magnetic levitation, that is. It is one of about two dozen firms in the world that makes a "Bearingless Motor", engines or motors with rotors that are "levitated" by magnetic force, getting rid of the need for ball bearings and the lubricant required to prevent wear and tear of the parts.

Levitronix combines an electric motor and a magnetic bearing in the same unit for its innovative blood pumping unit. The technology suspends a rotor slice in magnetic fields, which drive the motion of the slice without mechanical contact.

In other words, the device impellers (means the same a propeller but indicates a closed housing of the propeller) waft up and down from the sides of the chamber holding the blood, driven by the motor located on the outside. There is no mechanical contact.

The effect is that the system retains a much higher level of hemoglobin than other types of pumps. Pumps that use ball bearings to rotate the fins or impellers can destroy the red corpuscles in blood.

A small signal processor enables precise regulation of the speed, pressure or flow rate. The motion of the pump can be continuous or pulsating.

Recent ZKB pioneer prizewinners raised more than SFr50 million in venture capital in the past months. Opto Speed, a winner in 2001, just closed a round of SFr33 million last month and esmertec ag winner in 2000 raised more than SFr20 million in 2001.

by Valerie Thompson

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