A bionic heart created in Brisbane.
A bionic heart created in Brisbane. Photo: supplied
A ground-breaking bionic heart without a pulse is hoped to be saving lives within three years.
The world-first device was designed by Brisbane engineer Dr Daniel Timms, who instigated the project in 2001 while studying at the Queensland University of Technology.
It  recently passed its biggest test when it was successfully transplanted into a live and healthy sheep, and Dr Timms now wants it ready for human trials by 2018.
Dr Timms said the device, known as a BiVACOR, could last 10 years longer than previous artificial heart designs because of a lack of wear and tear on parts.
If successful, the device could provide a real alternative to organ donation for the hundreds of thousands of Australians diagnosed with heart disease every year. In 2012, 20,046 Australians lost their lives to heart disease, 14 per cent of all deaths.
In Dr Timms' bionic heart, a small bladed disk spins in the heart at 2000 revolutions per minute to pump blood around the body without a pulse, a significant departure from traditional pulse-based designs, which included balloon-like sacs to pump blood.
"There were other devices that were quite large, and they also would break quite easily," Dr Timms says in a video explaining the concept.
"And the reason they would break is they would have a sac, so if you're beating them billions of times per year, they're going to break."
He said the device addressed the problem of wear and tear by using magnetic levitation technology to keep the components from touching.
"It means there's no wear and that's the key of the device in that it can actually last for up to 10 years or longer without wearing out," he said.
"And that's a paradigm shift actually from these earlier pulse-style devices that couldn't last for more than two years."
In January, a combined surgical team from Brisbane, Texas, Sydney and Melbourne totally removed a sheep's heart, chosen for its similarity in chest size to women and children, and replaced it with the device.
The Prince Charles Hospital's Professor John Fraser said there was excitement and almost relief that more than a decade of hard work had paid off.
"There was no native heart at all. Instead, there was a titanium disc spinning, keeping this sheep happy and healthy," he said.
"It was a fantastic team effort."
Researchers say they need at least $5 million to take the device to clinical trials and Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital has kicked off a campaign to help.
The artificial heart development is one of the main focuses of The Common Good crowd-funding campaign, dedicated to supporting medical discoveries.
"We've now shown that the device works. This idea is viable. Now it's a matter of making it robust and reliable so that it works in a patient," Dr Timms said.
"The time frame is three to five years before it could be ready for humans. We need to test it for a year to confirm its safety and regulatory properties before we implant it in a patient.
"Proving the concept was the first real hurdle. There are many to go from here but we're confident we have the collaborative team to take it to that next level."
Professor Fraser has been involved with the project since its early days and will continue to contribute.
But he's hoping a new partnership between researchers from around Australia and south-east Asia could yield similar breakthroughs in artificial lungs or even improve upon the bionic heart design.
The team of specialists was recently awarded a coveted Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) grant by the National Health and Medical Research Council, experts in medicine, engineering, surgery, blood cells, drugs and design.
"If we look at what's happening up in Asia, they've got so much power and I think to be able to bring our Asian cousins into the research we can learn from them and they can learn from us," Professor Fraser said.
"It's all about the patient. If BiVACOR helps patients, that's brilliant but if we can help them more by learning how we can make it simpler or better, or if there's a lung device that doesn't fail or lasts even longer [that's better]."