Cardiac valve repair/replacement is among the most prevalent medical sectors today. It has witnessed a number of innovations including the introduction of prosthetic heart valves which have been designed to increase the scope of cardiac valve treatment. Prosthesis in medicine is an artificial device that replaces a missing body part. According to the study ‘United Kingdom Prosthetic Heart Valves Market Outlook To 2025’, such procedures are gaining popularity and have even evolved the cardiac discipline in order to better treat people with cardiac valve ailments by the introduction of prosthetic heart valves.
Prosthetic heart valves in the UK saw a major development in 2007, when cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at King’s College Hospital started a programme to treat aortic valve problems. Then, two years later experts from the same institution performed the first operation to replace one worn out prosthetic heart valve with a new one via keyhole surgery through the chest. Another more recent major development is being explored in the UK. A British Heart Foundation funded chemical engineer is perfecting a material to tackle heart valve disease. The perfect material for a heart valve is believed to be one which is strong yet flexible, capable of opening and closing 200 million times or more, compatible with the human body and able to let blood flow easily through it. Dr. Geoff Moggridge of the chemical engineering department, Cambridge University is a key person in this research. He has found a colourless semi-transparent sheet which is a block copolymer (two kinds of polymer chemically bonded together). The copolymer appears slightly similar to fiberglass and consists of a glassy material, which self assembles into fibres, bonded to a rubbery material.
A key advantage of the copolymer heart valve over mechanical heart valves is that patients would not require lifelong anticoagulant medication. Anticoagulants reduce clotting but carry a risk of bleeding, and in the case of Warfarin, regular monitoring and blood tests are required. Dr. Moggridge has shown reasonable confidence that patients with his heart valve would not need the drugs long term.
Clotting is a risk in existing mechanical valves, which are usually made from carbon or titanium leaflets (flaps) attached to a Teflon or polyester ring. The Cambridge team has also carried out research on how blood flows through valves and discovered that the blood swirls around mechanical valves, because of the way they open and they think it is this rotation in the blood flow that leads to clotting. The Cambridge team has done experiments to mimic blood flow through their valve which closely resembles the shape of a natural valve so, blood flow was found to be natural too thereby reducing clotting risk. A microscopic coating of the anticoagulant Heparin on the valve reduces this risk even further.
Prosthetic heart valves are proving to be the way forward in cardiac surgery and UK’s contribution cements this fact. The UK has been the origin of many developments in the medical sector including artificial heart valves. A number of renowned educational and research oriented institutions such as King’s College and Cambridge University are augmenting these innovations and conducting their own research projects to improve general cardiac treatment. Dr. Moggridge and his team’s prosthetic heart valve is one such example which has paved the way for further ongoing research projects led by the same experts.
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