250,000 Americans suffer from severe aortic valve disease. 50 percent of those people will not survive for 2 years without valve replacement surgery. A big problem is the replacement options currently on the market. You can either get a valve made out of pig or cow tissue or a mechanical valve. But tissue valves generally only last 10-15 years before falling apart and mechanical valves will clot, requiring the patient to take lifelong blood thinning medication which has a host of bad side effects. Both of these options are particularly unsuitable for children whose hearts are still growing.
I am working on designing an artificial heart valve made with the patients own cells so it can grow with the body. Many researchers have been working in this field already, but the fact that there is not a better solution is a testament to the difficulty of the problem. Just think about the dynamic forces that heart valves would experience as they fully open and close with every single heart beat over your entire lifetime. Its really an intense mechanical problem, but heart valves are refined to do their job well. They have a layered structure with each layer giving the valve unique mechanical function. My novel solution will reproduce this layered structure into a polymer scaffold – with each polymer layer doing its job just like a normal valve. By focusing on biomechanics and by designing unique properties into each layer, I can design an artificial valve that will grow with the patient, avoid unwanted medication, and most importantly last a lifetime.