Project type: Development

Inventors: Dr. Marta Serrani, Professor Geoff Moggridge, Professor Raimondo Ascione, Dr. Joanne Stasiak & Eugenia Biral, Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology
Mentor: Dr Bill Matthews

Existing prosthetic heart valves are either biological or mechanical, both of which have limitations for patients.

Biological heart valves are made from animal tissue, which means they are well-tolerated and biocompatible and can be used without needing long-term anti-coagulation therapy such as warfarin. However they are expensive to manufacture, needing hundreds of handmade sutures, and may not be acceptable to some patients for ethical or religious reasons. They also have a limited life span of 10-15 years, meaning that another heart valve replacement will be needed at that time.

Mechanical heart valves are made from hard materials and last for a much longer time, but need patients to take anti-coagulants for the rest of their lives, requiring regular monitoring.
The inventors have developed heart valves from polymeric materials which have a number of advantages over the other approaches. Firstly they can be manufactured easily using standard industrial methods, reducing the manufacturing cost. Secondly they will have a much longer lifetime than biological valves (estimated to be at least 30 years), and will not need the patients to take anti-coagulation drugs. This means that once the initial heart surgery is carried out, a patient should need much less monitoring and follow-up than with either biological or mechanical valves.

The question for the i-Team is how these new heart valves might best be deployed in the developing world. Which countries have appropriate healthcare systems to support heart surgery, and where would the specific attributes of the polymeric valves bring the most benefits? What regulatory hurdles would the inventors need to pass in each of those countries, and are there any relevant NGOs or charities that the inventors could work with?