Test-Tube Heart Valves Work in Ewes. And You?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Here's news to make your heart skip a beat. Or just keep on beating, as the case may be. Scientists at Children's Hospital in Boston are celebrating a finding that could mean longer, healthier lives for children and adults with heart disease. The researchers have successfully grown a new heart valve for a sheep, using cells from the animal's own arteries. After being extracted from the sheep, a mass of cells was placed in a valve-shaped mold, where they took the form and function of a normal, healthy valve. Researchers are particularly pleased by the toughness of the valves; previous lab-grown valves were too weak to withstand the pressure of the constant blood flow to and from the heart.

If scientists can grow a human valve using the same technique as that developed on the sheep, it could have a dramatic effect on success rates for valve replacement operations. Operations to repair valves can be risky, and this new technology might mean fewer surgeries for people whose replacement valves were prone to failure, and also for young people, who tend to outgrow their initial replacement valves and often need multiple follow-up surgeries. The new valves could be a one-shot deal, since they have the potential to grow along with the recipient's own heart. As TIME medical correspondent Dr. Ian Smith points out, the new valves won't be available in doctors' offices any time soon. "At this point," he says "this experiment is more of a scientific intrigue than a realistic medical application." Still, Dr. Smith adds, the promise of this discovery, even at this early stage, is great.