ASME-Landmark:Blood Heat Exchanger


The design and development of a unique blood heat exchanger for use in open heart surgery was completed in 1957. It was a joint effort by engineers of Harrison Radiator Division, General Motors Corporation in Lockport, N.Y., and medical researchers from the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

The blood heat exchanger was developed to shorten the time normally required to cool a patient prior to open heart surgery and to rewarm the patient following surgery. Prior to the time of this developmental program, the body temperature of a patient was lowered by either a refrigerated blanket or an ice pack, which required from one to two hours under anesthesia before the operation could begin.

The blood heat exchanger consisted of a group of slender stainless steel tubes enclosed by a specially constructed steel jacket. As blood flowed through the tubes, water was circulated outside the tubes where its inlet temperature was precisely controlled. The controlled temperature water was obtained by mixing hot and cold water through a special mixing valve where in conjunction with a thermostat the exact desired temperature was maintained. The temperature of the circulating water was automatically regulated and could be precisely controlled to either cool or warm the flowing blood. Blood was pumped from the patient through the heart-lung machine (where its oxygen supply was renewed and carbon dioxide removed) and then back to the patient by way of the heat exchanger where its temperature was either lowered or raised. This process takes 10-15 minutes, as compared to the 3-4 hours formerly required. See ASME website for more information