Engineering a Heart Valve
The scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are investigating the possibility of engineering heart valves in the laboratory that will be perfect matches for patients needing valve replacement surgery.
This process begins with a pig valve, which, today, is commonly used to replace human heart valves. While these valves function quite well, they are not always long-lasting. Our goal is to remove all cells from the valve, and replace them with a patient's own cells. Removal of the original cells leaves the basic structure, or skeleton of the valve, which consist mainly of collagen and elastin.
We are exploring two options for placing a patient's own cells onto the scaffold. One involves obtained cells from a blood sample and multiplying them in the lab. Once there are enough cells to coat the scaffold, it would be placed in a heart valve "bioreactor," equipment that pre-conditions or "exercises" it so it would develop the properties it needs to function in the body. The bioreactor has computer-controlled fluid flow, mimicking the natural function in the human heart valve. A second strategy is to coat the scaffold with an antibody that attracts certain cell types. The scaffold would then be implanted in the body, where it would theoretically "self-seed" with a patient's cells.
Watch a video of a valve being pre-conditioned in a bioreactor: