Dr Daniel Timms is a man with a heart as great as the one he has dedicated his life to developing writes Elisabeth Attwood
You’ve heard the saying ‘great minds think alike’, but it is when great minds think differently that ideas are born.
Enter Dr Daniel Timms PhD, chief technology officer at BiVACOR, who is changing the course of history with his revolutionary invention of an alternative to the artificial heart.
“Hundreds of millions have been spent on developing an artificial heart but most were modelled on the way the heart works, and were too large and didn’t last for long,” says Dr Timms, a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) graduate.
“The shift in thinking to researching a device that would deliver a continuous flow of blood rather than try to copy nature was like our successful attempts at flight…modern airplanes don’t have flapping wings,” he explains.
Dr Timms is working on the premise that the body essentially just needs blood flow to deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells. This flow is preferably pulsing (via the heart) but can be delivered via a constant steady stream with a device that doesn’t replicate the pumping action of the heart – known as the BiVACOR (derived by combining biventricular and cor, latin for heart).
Dr Timms’ invention is half the size of earlier models and could be fitted to women and children. “It uses maglev technology to levitate a spinning rotor and so will not wear out. It can automatically adapt blood flow between the left and right sides of the heart.”
Dr Timms has a personal interest in artificial heart technology after his father suffered a heart attack causing one of his heart valves to leak.
“The valve was replaced in 2004 by the surgeons at the Prince Charles Hospital – the very doctors I would end up collaborating with.”
As a student of mechanical engineering at QUT, Dr Timms came across artificial heart technology through an undergraduate project.
“I was instantly intrigued, given my close personal ties to heart failure. I decided to undertake a PhD in the area in 2001 and within six months the initial idea for the BiVACOR was conceived.”
Now 35, he was awarded the university’s Young Alumnus of the Year award in July 2013.
With a mother as an assistant science teacher at Ferny Grove High School, Dr Timms has always had an interest in the subject.
“I would spend my time before and after primary school in the science lab investigating the experiments of the high school students.”
He emphasises the invaluable support he has received from his home city of Brisbane.
“The Prince Charles Hospital demonstrated remarkable insight and created a position for me to continue development. Funding has been instrumental in getting the device off the ground and has come from the Prince Charles Hospital, the EKKA and contributions from local businesses such as Baulderstone and Stenning.”
Dr Timms didn’t shy away from the opportunity to work at the world-leading Texas Heart Institute – the place where the world’s first artificial heart was implanted in 1969. When one of the institute’s pre-eminent surgeons, Dr Billy Cohn, saw Dr Timms’ device, he described it as “the most highly-evolved and brilliant device I’ve ever seen.”
He invited Dr Timms to work with the institute and raised $2.1 million to relocate him and his team from around the world.
“Not only did I get through the door, they took the hinges off for me,” says Dr Timms.
Dr Timms has spent 13 years developing the device yet such is the complexity of it, BiVACOR is still possibly five years away from human testing.
“We complete extensive testing of prototypes on a replicated circulatory system on the bench top. The goal is to create a practical replacement to the failing human heart, suitable for those waiting for transplant, or fitted permanently.
“I have worked with great teams around the world who have spent countless hours, many as volunteers just out of the passion they have for this project, to get the BiVACOR this far.”