Eight out of every 1000 children are born with a heart problem. Out of these, every fifth child needs a heart valve. While today’s mechanical or biological heart valves allow children to continue their lives, a research team at RWTH is developing a significantly more compatible heart valve that grows along with the body’s growth.
The device is made exclusively from the body’s own tissue. The team is now receiving support from the German Vodafone Charity Foundation by way of a EUR 65,000 injection of funds.
Currently when a child needs a new heart valve there are two possibilities, either a mechanical heart valve that requires blood thinning medication for life, or the biological variant (from swine) that requires regular replacement since it calcifies rapidly. A heart valve constructed from the child's own tissue is the ideal solution as it grows with the body and is biologically compatible. Heart valves of this nature also have a longer life span and reduce the number of risky operations.
The team of Dr. Stefan Jockenhövel has been researching such heart valves since 1998. The director of “Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering” at the Clinic for Thorax, Heart and Vessel Surgery of RWTH Aachen explains: “Currently our heart valve prosthesis has attained a durability of the gel matrix that is six times greater than before”. The goal is to test the world’s first heart valve that is made exclusively of the body’s own tissue on living organisms as soon as possible.
The prosthetic heart valve made completely of the body’s own tissue is based on test tissue that have been cultivated and cloned “in vitro”. A gel produced from the patient’s own blood is added to the tissue cells. The structure of tissue and hydrogel matrix provides the basis for the creation of the heart valves in a specially developed process.