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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019

Galway scientists develop new and improved heart valves

Patients with prosthetic heart valves could see an improvement in their daily lives if the research leads to better medical devices.

Image: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP/Press Association Images

RESEARCHERS AT NUI Galway have developed a super-sized heart valve which could improve the daily lives of people suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

Dr Nathan Quinlan and Dr Alessandro Bellofiore believe their model heart valve may improve the next generation of cardiovascular devices.

Every year, mechanical valves are inserted into about 125,000 patients with heart valve disease around the world. Such valves can lead to unnatural blood flows that can trigger a clotting reaction. To counter this, patients must take daily medication which often results in various side effects.

Dr Quinlan and Dr Bellofiore of the Biofluid Dynamics group at the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering and Science say they are trying to address these problems by better understanding how the blood flows through prosthetic valves.

They have developed this model valve, which is about six times larger and runs about 100 times slower than normal valves, in order to calculate the stresses experienced by the blood cells.

“Medicine has been using artificial heart valves, quite successfully, since the 1950s but there is certainly room for improvement. The challenge is to develop a valve which will avoid the thrombotic or clotting reaction,” explains Dr Quinlan.

We’ve scaled up and slowed down the flow through the valve – without altering the underlying mechanics – so that we can measure it at very high resolution. We can see very small and short-lived eddies that are only about 10 times larger than blood cells. This is giving us new insights into what damages blood cells and causes dangerous clots.”

The researchers say that their work is crucial for the design and manufacture of new medical devices.

“The approach we’ve developed could be used not only for heart valves, for any device implanted in large blood vessels. Further down the line, the understanding that comes out of this work can lead to better devices.”

Dr Nathan Quinlan with his super-sized heart valve.

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