“We could potentially reduce the number of surgeries these children would have to endure from five to one. That’s the dream.”
Each year, 40,000 children are born with congenital heart defects which can require heart valve replacement surgery, but just like children quickly grow out of clothing and toys, they also outgrow these valves. To solve this issue, researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities are working to develop a lab-grown heart valve that can grow with its recipient.
The researchers’ lab-grown model has expanded over time in trial settings and one prototype, implanted into a lamb, successfully grew with the animal into adulthood. These encouraging initial applications indicate that human trials could begin in the near future.
The valves are made from donor sheep skin cells and a gelatin-like substance called fibrin. When necessary cell growth nutrients are added, the valve grows and changes alongside its theoretical recipient. Plus, the valves demonstrated a reduction in blood clotting and calcification when compared to traditional replacement options.
Children who receive replacement valves today have to undergo repeat replacement surgeries five or more times growing up to adjust for their changing heart size. A valve model that grows with children would greatly improve their quality of life and reduce potential complications that come with multiple childhood heart surgeries.
Senior researcher Robert Tranquillo told Freethink, “We could potentially reduce the number of surgeries these children would have to endure from five to one. That’s the dream.”
The next steps for the research team involve more lab trials before asking the FDA for approval to begin human trials.