We've all heard of the amazing regenerative abilities of some creatures. What if our heart could also have the same capacity? A team of Harvard researchers is looking for an answer to this question by working on an artificial heart valve that can regenerate itself.
The invisible enemy
Valvular heart disease is a condition that prevents the heart from distributing blood flow efficiently, due to a narrowing or malfunction of the heart valve. The consequences can be serious: among these, heart failure, stroke or cardiac arrhythmias with sometimes lethal consequences.
Il Wyss Institute and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of Harvard have devised a method for creating an artificial heart valve, the FibraValve, in a few minutes. The technique, presented in the journal Matter (I link it to you here) uses a special process called "rotary jet spinning". Essentially, the system deposits synthetic fibers on a rotating base, precisely creating the shape of the heart valve to be implanted in the patient.
The secret is in the mix
The fibers used are a custom blend of polycaprolactone and polylactic acid, known as PLCL. This material can remain in a person's body for about six months: during this time, the artificial heart valve acts as a framework, a support that gives the body's cells time and a way to regenerate naturally.
A crucial factor, which could eliminate the need for risky surgery to replace valves as the body develops, and could be particularly useful for children, as the implant can grow with them.
Our goal is for the patient's native cells to use the device as a kind of guide to regenerate their valve tissueKevin Parker, co-author of the study
Self-healing heart valve, the next steps
Currently, the device is being tested in living sheep. The preliminary results? Exciting: the implant works well, and within an hour blood cells are already starting to form on the artificial heart valve. No side effects (such as thrombosis) have been observed so far.
Of course, more time is needed before human trials are made, but the results promise to pave the way for a revolution in heart disease treatment, for a future in which our bodies can repair themselves and invasive surgeries become obsolete.