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British surgeons have broken new medical ground by connecting a battery-operated pump to the heart of a 62-year-old man to determine whetherthe new device offers long-term salvation for those dying from heart disease.

The four-hour operation was carried out at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, eastern England, Wednesday, the hospital announced on Friday.The unnamed man is in a stable condition in the intensive care unit at Papworth, Britain's leading heart hospital.

John Wallwork, a member of the medical team that carried out the operation, said the metal and plastic device known as a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) was implanted in the wall of the abdomen and connected to the patient's heart.

Such devices have previously been used as a "bridge" to help more than 200 patients stay alive until a donor heart became available. But Wednesday's operation was the first in which an LVAD has been implanted for long-term therapy to prevent heart failure.

The LVAD is a simple electrical pump which is designed to do most of the work of the pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle. It differs from the artificial hearts used in the 1980s because the patient keeps his own heart.

The LVAD, which costs about $60,000, is made by a U.S. company, Baxter Healthcare Corporation.

If a pilot study is successful, surgeons believe patients will be discharged wearing a battery pack to drive the electrical pump, attached to a waist belt.

"The purpose of this trial is to evaluate the assist device as a permanent implant for patients with established irreversible cardiac failure," Wallwork said in a statement.

The pilot study, funded by charitable donations, has two groups of four patients. One set will be sent home with LVADs, the other will continue with their usual drug treatment.

If sufficient research funding is found, Papworth surgeons will conduct the "main" trial, involving at least 40 patients over three years.