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Bio-Engineered Heart Valves

If you think replacing a heart valve is tricky business, try growing one in a laboratory. Dr. Bernadine Healy will examine tissue engineering Thursday for The Early ShowHeartScore series done in conjunction with The American Heart Association.

The facts:

  • Each year nearly 80,000 people require heart valve repairs due to either congenital defects or natural wear and tear, or rheumatic diseases, infection, age related degeneration.
  • Current technology permits two forms of valve replacement: mechanical devices or treated pig valves. Both options come with drawbacks: the pig valves wear out, and the mechanical valves cause blood clots and require the patient to take blood thinning drugs.
  • In November a research team led by Dr. John Mayer of Boston Children's Hospital announced the first successful laboratory creation of a replacement heart valve. They grew the valve by combining cells from the arteries of sheep with a biodegradeable polymer scaffolding.
  • The valves were inserted into the sheep and they lived normally for five months until the valves leaked and the sheep died. The new valves are now being redesigned to prevent leakage.
  • These engineered valves reduce the risk of rejection because they are made from the patient's own cells. These valves can be used in children whose hearts are still growing because the valve grows along with the tissue.
  • Human testing is three to five years away, according to the research team in Boston.

Check out part I and part II of this report for more information on heart health.
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