How do you mend a broken heart?

By Ali Green

30 September 2019

3 minute read

pink paper broken heart hanging on wire

World-first surgery uses Aussie tech to mend broken heart of US man. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Sunday was World Heart Day and we celebrated in true CSIRO style – with science and technology. In a world-first, a man in the US received a replacement heart valve. It was made from a special polymer developed by our researchers in Melbourne.

We’ve been developing biomaterials for use in humans for decades, from extended wear contact lenses to polymers for pacemakers.

Elast-Eon™ is a biologically stable polymer we developed for cardiac pacemakers and it is implanted in over 10 million people worldwide.

We also developed a family of biodegradable polymers called NovoSorb™ that are currently being commercialised by Melbourne-based company PolyNovo Biomaterials. They’re using them in innovative devices for treating burns, surgical wounds and negative pressure wound therapy.

So, it’s fair to say we have some form in biomedical polymers. Biomedical polymers are special because they must seamlessly integrate into the complex systems of the human body.

How to save a life

Our latest polymer, LifePolymer™, was recently transplanted into a man in the US in the form of a novel heart valve, to save his life. Talk about Australian technology making a difference to global heart health!

The polymer material and the design of this valve mimics a natural human valve. The polymer is robust enough to sustain the constant vigorous pulsing required of a healthy aortic valve. And it’s capable of lasting decades without calcification, risk of clotting or damage to red blood cells.

The Tria valve mimics a natural human valve.

The synthetic valve’s flexibility, biological stability and biocompatibility means patients who receive it don’t require on-going medication or other intervention.

The American patient who received the valve suffers from aortic valve disease. The condition means the valve between the main pumping chamber of the heart (left ventricle) and the body’s main artery (aorta) don’t work properly. This causes the heart to work overtime to pump blood around the body. In July, he underwent surgery at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan to implant the heart valve. Two days after surgery he felt well enough to take a 4km walk.

Research with heart

There are currently two popular valve replacement options. The first, and most commonly implanted, is a tissue valve that is obtained from animal tissue sources – most commonly from cows. The second is a mechanical valve, but this is not suitable for smaller people like children and mechanical valves require life-long drug treatments to prevent blood clotting.

Can’t beat it

As well as developing the new biomaterial specifically for our commercial partner, Foldax Inc, we also helped the company scale-up its production capabilities.

The valves are robotically manufactured by Foldax in Utah, USA. This means they can provide the highest level of quality and precision. And the design also allows for future patient customisation. The Tria heart valves are revolutionising the industry as the first and only biopolymer heart valve platform using our LifePolymer™.

Beyond heart valves, this polymer has other potential uses. For example, in coatings for stents, vascular grafts or synthetic membranes for repair of ear drum ruptures.