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One might think that the list of companies playing a leading role in the development and manufacture of artificial hearts would be limited to major suppliers of medical equipment.

Yet one small firm staffed by only nine employees in Ota Ward, Tokyo, has provided significant input in this sector.

Yasuhisa Koki Biomechanics Co. has been supplying prototypes or samples of artificial hearts, including ventricular assist devices and blood circulation simulators, to more than 20 medical institutions and medical-instrument developers nationwide.

“We are developing experimental devices for the artificial hearts to meet various demands of our clients,” said Takashi Tanaka, the firm’s executive director.

The ventricular assist device performs a temporary bypass function during open-heart surgery. The device performs the heart’s functions until the real organ can perform the functions for itself.

The blood circulation simulator is a device that checks whether an artificial heart is capable of functioning as well as a real heart. Use of the blood circulation simulator produces more reliable data than conducting experiments on animals, he said.

“The blood circulation simulator reduces the number of animal experiments aimed at studying the functions of the heart, resulting in a decline in the number of protests from animal rights groups,” said Tanaka.

Yasuhisa Koki, which was established in 1969 by Tanaka’s father, Fumio, conducted research on artificial hearts in the early 1970s, in cooperation with Waseda University and Tokyo Women’s Medical University.

Tanaka joined the company in 1986 and took over the development of artificial hearts, having served as a trainee at the National Cardiovascular Center in Osaka, one of Japan’s most prestigious medical organizations in this field.

During his five years at the NCVC, Tanaka studied the development of artificial hearts that were actually used to help patients during operations at the medical organization.

Using his various skills, Tanaka has been producing artificial heart devices for experiments at Yasuhisa Koki by exchanging opinions with medical researchers.

“I am drawing blueprints of artificial heart devices to meet the needs of our clients and developing the devices in cooperation with various manufacturing companies in Ota Ward,” he said.

Tokyo’s Ota Ward is well known as a center for small and midsize manufacturing firms. Accordingly, Yasuhisa Koki is taking advantage of the network of around 50 small and midsize firms in the area to produce its own devices, Tanaka said.

“I am fully aware of skills and expertise of every company in the network. It is more efficient to develop a new product in collaboration with my neighborhood firms than to open networks on the Web site with the large number of unfamiliar companies,” he said.

Yasuhisa Koki also makes parts for satellites and special beds for patients with serious injuries.

While many firms based in Ota used to receive orders without having to resort to aggressive promotional drives, the prolonged economic slump has completely changed these business conditions, Tanaka said.

Many companies in the area are now trying to attract new domestic and overseas clients in order to survive the economic slump, he added.

Yasuhisa Koki is thus looking for orders from the United States, Europe and the rest of Asia by publicizing its skills in the medical equipment and other sectors, Tanaka said.

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