This Implant Could Help Kids Avoid Repeated Open-Heart Surgeries

IMAGE: RANDAL MCKENZIE

People born with expanded or weak hearts usually undergo several heart valve repair surgeries during their lifetime. A strong ring is used in Adults but it can’t be implanted in children because it would limit their natural heart growth.

The dangerous and costly procedure is a standard practice in situations such as this one. Doctors in the United States perform over 1,000 pediatric heart valve repair surgeries every year. Surgeons secure the patient’s heart valves with stitches which need constant maintenance and repair because they can break or damage a tissue as the heart grows.

Scientists and engineers have created a new prosthetic that is flexible enough to wrap around the base of the heart valve to keep it from leaking while allowing the heart to grow naturally without any hindrance.

The device, which looks like a horseshoe, is described in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering. It’s made of a biodegradable polyester core covered by a mesh tube. The material of this outer sleeve is interwoven like a Chinese finger trap, so when heart valve tissue grows and tugs on the tube’s ends, it stretches. Over time, the core dissolves, and the growing tissue can pull the sleeve into a longer, thinner shape.

The new medical implant tightens leaky heart valves and its ring expands as its wearer grows up. Credit: RANDAL MCKENZIE

Researchers hope that their device will decrease the need for these open-heart follow-up procedures. “It’s quite invasive to do surgeries on a beating heart,” says coauthor Jeff Karp, a biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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