Developing smarter heart valves that last longer

10 December 2016        

Category: Research

A diagram showing where valves are in the heart

A research project aimed at developing longer lasting prosthetic heart valves could minimise the need for repeat valve replacements, thanks to a £188,000 grant we are funding. Avoiding surgical intervention would vastly improve the quality of life for people with heart valve disease.

Researchers at the University of Bristol, led by BHF Professor Gianni Angelini, aim to produce new prosthetic heart valves that last longer because they are more resistant to the irreversible damage and build-up of calcium over time that hardens the valve, decreasing heart function. This damage can lead to further valve replacement surgery.

Using veins in the leg

The researchers are studying cells taken from human veins in the leg, which have been shown to be naturally more resistant to calcium build-up. These cells will be used to engineer bio-scaffolds which will mimic the environment of natural heart valves, generating a new, more hardwearing heart valve. 

Controlling the flow

Heart valves have an important function in the heart, ensuring the blood flows in the right direction. A diseased or damaged heart valve can obstruct or restrict the flow of blood, or can cause blood to leak backwards.


The condition

Heart valve disease can affect people of all ages, including babies with heart conditions that develop in the womb, heart attack survivors, and the elderly. The number of patients requiring valve replacements is on the increase, and the intrusive procedure can be gruelling for patients, and at times require open heart surgery.

Hayley Chew, aged 37, from Lincoln, has had a valve repair surgery and will need valve replacement surgery in the future. She said:

“I was 34 when I had my first open heart surgery. It is amazing what they can do these days with surgery, and it is mind blowing to think what they will hopefully be able to do in years to come. It’s a huge relief to know that the BHF is funding research into better heart valves, which could mean people like me don’t need to face lots of operations.”

Ground breaking research

Our vision is a world in which people do not die prematurely or suffer from heart and circulatory disease. To tackle this, we are funding around £100 million of cardiovascular research each year.

Find out more about the BHF's life saving research.

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