In a world where heart disease remains a leading cause of death, advancements in cardiac care are always a welcome sight.
A team of researchers has made a significant breakthrough in producing artificial heart valves, creating them in less than 10 minutes. This rapid production method, known as “Focused Rotary Jet Spinning,” is like a cotton candy machine with a hair dryer behind it.
This innovative technique allows for creating tiny fibres on the nanoscale, mimicking the extracellular matrix that heart valve cells are accustomed to living and growing inside.
The speed and spatial fidelity of this method are its key advantages. Traditional technologies can take weeks or months to produce a heart valve, but a complete valve can be spun in minutes with Focused Rotary Jet Spinning. This accelerates the production process and ensures a structure that closely resembles a natural heart valve.
The Science Behind the Innovation
Pulmonary heart valves comprise three partially overlapping leaflets that open and close with every heartbeat.
They are responsible for controlling one-way blood flow through the heart. The researchers use air jets to direct liquid polymer onto a valve-shaped frame to create these valves. This results in a seamless meshwork of tiny fibres. The valves are designed to be temporary and regenerative, providing a porous scaffold for cells to infiltrate, build upon, and eventually replace as the polymer biodegrades.
The valves’ strength, elasticity, and ability to repeatedly open and close were tested using a pulse duplicator, a machine that simulates the heartbeat. Each one of the valves must be elastic, retain its shape despite constant mechanical stimuli, and be strong enough to withstand back pressures from blood trying to flow backwards.
The researchers also grew heart cells on the valves to test for biocompatibility and to see how well cells could infiltrate the scaffolds.
From Lab to Life: Testing in Sheep
This research’s final and most crucial step was testing the valves’ immediate functionality in sheep.
Sheep hearts are a suitable animal model for several reasons—the physical forces inside sheep and human hearts are similar, and sheep hearts also represent an “extreme” environment for heart valves due to sheep’s accelerated calcium metabolism, which presents an increased risk of developing calcium deposits, a common complication for heart valve recipients.
Surgeons implanted the valves into two sheep and monitored their position and function using ultrasound for one hour. Both valves were implanted successfully and were immediately functional. In the second sheep, the valve showed good functionality for an hour, and post-mortem analysis indicated no complications in tears or thrombus formation and that cells had already begun to infiltrate and adhere to the valve.
The next step for the team is to test the valves’ performance over a longer duration and in more sheep. This will help determine how well the valves function over weeks to months and how effectively and quickly the sheep’s cells and tissues remodel the scaffold.
This breakthrough in heart valve production is a significant step forward in cardiac care. It promises to revolutionize how we treat heart valve diseases, offering a faster, more efficient, and potentially more effective solution.
The research was published as “On-demand heart valve manufacturing using focused rotary jet spinning” in Matter.
- Researchers have developed a method to produce artificial heart valves in less than 10 minutes.
- The technique, “Focused Rotary Jet Spinning,” creates tiny fibres that mimic the extracellular matrix of heart valve cells.
- The valves were tested for strength, elasticity, and ability to open and close repeatedly.
- The valves were also tested in sheep, where they were implanted and functioned immediately.
- This breakthrough could revolutionize the treatment of heart valve diseases.