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Heart Valve Research

Related link: Heart Valve Laboratory

Historically, the main activities of the Heart Valve Laboratory have been the study the structure/function relationship of heart valve tissues. The expectation is that once the mechanism by which native cardiac valves withstand the more than 2 billion cycles of loading during their natural lifetime without failure is understood, better, more durable artificial valves can be developed.

Top view of heart showing heart valves and left atrium.

Previous approaches to studying heart valve biomechanics have included:

  • selective enzymatic digestion and biomechanical testing
  • materials testing and constitutive modeling
  • histologic and electron microscopy

New areas of investigation have built upon this basic understanding of valvular function and have explored computational modeling as a tool for the study of soft tissue biomechanics, and tissue engineering as a means of fabricating the complex biological structures directly in the laboratory.

Also notable has been the work towards developing tissue-engineered heart valves, using the biological materials found in the natural tissues--elastin, collagen and glycosaminoglycans. These molecules can be synthesized by cells in culture or purified from tissues, then manipulated to mimic the normal structural framework of the aortic valve. This approach is particularly relevant to connective tissues that have limited ability for self-repair, like the cardiac valves. Recent successes include the fabrication of tissue-engineered mitral valve chordae with a strength and stiffness ten times greater than any other material produced using similar approaches. Much of this success lies in the use of optimized cell and collagen ratios, nutrition fortified media and special purpose-built dynamic bioreactors that stretch the tissue-engineered chordae during maturation in vitro.

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