The Cutting Edge
Kid-sized Heart Valve Will Avoid Invasive Surgery, Reduce Pain and Speed Recovery
Cardiologists at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA are working with researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science to build a better artificial heart valve for children with congenital heart defects. Dr. Daniel Levi, assistant professor of pediatric cardiology, designed the valve. He partnered with Gregory Carman, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who, with researcher Lenka Stepan, created and developed the new device.
Constructed of an elastic memory-retaining metal alloy, the valve has a butterfly design that opens from the middle of the
valve rather than the edges. “Using catheters and collapsible valves, heart valves can be replaced without stopping the heart,
without cutting the chest open and without long recovery times,” says Dr. Levi. “That is a huge improvement in care for children living with a very difficult condition.”
Physicians will load the collapsible heart valve into a catheter inserted into a vein in the groin area, guide the catheter into place, and then deploy the valve to a precise location within the heart. As the valve is released from the catheter, it springs back to its original shape and begins to function.
“The unobtrusive leaflets within the valve mean there is no obstruction to blood flow,” explains Carmen. “This smaller design is well suited for pediatric patients and will allow children born with heart-valve defects to experience less pain and live much fuller lives.”
A defective heart valve fails to fully open or close, allowing blood to leak back into the heart chamber. Surgeons often replace the valve with one from a human donor, or a mechanical or porcine substitute. All heart-valve replacements have a limited life span, but for children there are even greater complications:
The valves do not grow as children grow, which could mean as
many as three or more open-heart surgeries during childhood and adolescence.
Open-heart surgery typically requires three to four days in intensive care, at least one or two weeks in the hospital and a lengthy recovery period at home. In contrast, patients who have valves replaced via catheter can go home as soon as the following day, with little pain.
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