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Mechanical engineers at UBC Okanagan working to develop better artificial heart valves

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Mechanical engineers at UBC Okanagan working to develop better artificial heart valves – Mar 28, 2019

When you think of mechanical engineering, you might not think about heart surgery.

But researchers at the Heart Valve Performance Laboratory of UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering are on the cutting edge of cardiology.

Assistant Prof. Hadi Mohammadi is leading a team of researchers who are trying to design better artificial heart valves.

One project aims to design a mechanical valve especially for children and infants.

“This is part of our research where we want to miniaturize or design, basically, a valve at the size of a chickpea,” Mohammadi said.

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However, mechanical valves don’t work for patients who aren’t strong enough to withstand open-heart surgery so other designs are also in the works.

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“My specific research is into the catheter-based design. Specifically, I’m doing it for the mitral position,” graduate researcher and lab manager Dylan Goode said.

The mitral valve regulates the flow of oxygen-rich blood from the lungs, passing it from the left atrium into the left ventricle.

Transcatheter valves can be put in place through small incisions and moved through a large artery into the heart.

Researchers here are also working on a replacement for valves made from animal tissues, which generally perform well but only last about 12 years.

The synthetic material being created in the UBC Okanagan lab for these replacement valves is developed from what’s called a hydrogel, which is 90 per cent water and 10 per cent polymer.

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“I had this compliment from surgeons that when you blindfoldedly touch this material, you can not say this is synthetic,” Mohammadi said.  “It seems like tissue, it feels like tissue.”

All of these heart valve developments are in various stages of testing, but Mohammadi and his team believe their designs have the potential to become the new standard in heart valve replacements.

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