1970 – Creates the Penn State and Milton S. Hershey Medical Center artificial heart research program
Dr. William Schuler Pierce and his team of researchers at Penn State University and Milton S. Hershey Medical Center designed and built the Penn State Heart-Assist Pump during the 1970s. The device was designated an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1990.
Dr. Pierce's accomplished career spans five decades. He was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, on January 12, 1937. At Lehigh he was an excellent student. He received awards for the highest grades in his chemistry classes for three straight years. He was a member of Tau Beta Pi and Pi Mu Epsilon honor societies, and in his senior year he conducted research on hemodynamics, the study of the motion of blood through a cardiovascular system. In 1958, he graduated from Lehigh with a B.S. in chemical engineering and accepted admission to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In his third year at UPenn, Pierce built his first model of an electrically-powered artificial heart. He graduated with his M.D. in 1962.
A Physician and an Engineer
Following an eight year residency, Dr. Pierce joined Penn State University and the new Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He created the Artificial Heart and Circulatory Support Group at the University in 1970 and joined forces with several notable engineering associates to design and build the most advanced artificial heart pump the world had ever seen. Clinical use of the new device began in 1976 and has saved thousands of lives in its three decades of service. The seam-free surface of the chambers inside the heart pump is its most innovative feature. These smooth cavities help prevent blood from clotting in the device, thus reducing the patient's risk of stroke.
In 1980, the pneumatically-driven heart-pump was approved by the FDA. Pierce and his team received U.S. patent 4222127 on September 16, 1980, and within four years the device was receiving widespread adoption. A major milestone came in 1985 when the heart pump was successfully applied as a bridge for cardiac transplantation. Pierce also played an important role in developing a fully implantable, wireless, motor-driven left ventricular assist pump named the "LionHeart," first implanted in patients in 2001.
Dr. Pierce ended his full-time clinical duties with Hershey Medical Center in 1996. His three decades of professorship at PSU were decorated by his appointment as an Evan Pugh Professor of Surgery, the school's highest academic award, and as the Jane A. Fetter Professor of Surgery. He has published over 300 papers in his professional career and holds dozens of patents. In 1988 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from Lehigh. He has also been the recipient of the prestigious Monroe J. Rathbone Award. He has performed thousands of heart bypass operations, including one in 1987 on Pennsylvania's governor, Bob Casey (father of Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr.).