Children born with congenital heart valve defects number in the thousands each year, yet there are simply no artificial cardiac valves available that were designed specifically for babies. Multiple heart surgeries have to be performed as the child outgrows successive implants. In addition, since the devices were never intended for children, they often have to be modified in the OR and sometimes they fail, leading to additional surgeries.
Draper Lab has now developed a tiny heart valve that expands and grows along with the child’s cardiac anatomy. The valve can expand more than twice its original diameter, potentially allowing a single valve to serve a child from birth to about six years of age.
“Heart valves designed for adults often require significant modifications for children,” in Draper’s announcement said Dr. Sitaram Emani of Boston Children’s Hospital. “In some cases, a surgeon in the operating room might need to shorten or remove parts of the stent, adding a suturing skirt and anchoring one end in the ventricle to minimize movement. In addition, adapting the valve to the child’s growth is done through forceful expansion with a balloon catheter, which involves an invasive procedure, anesthesia and a hospital stay on average every 14 months. Neither approach is optimal, which is why a new approach to developing a pediatric heart valve is needed.”
Two designs of the new pediatric valve was developed with the help of folks from Boston Children’s Hospital. A prototype has already been built, which now has to go through a bunch of ex vivo tests before it will be trialed on animals.