Pandemic Discovery

Heart help for infants

More than 330,000 children worldwide are born with a heart-valve defect each year, and millions of others develop rheumatic heart disease requiring early valve replacement. Current prosthetic heart valves are fixed in size, so typically need to be replaced every few years as a child grows. For children receiving their first replacement before age 2, that can mean as many as five high-risk open-heart operations before they reach adulthood.

Now, HMS researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have created a new design for a prosthetic valve that could expand to meet the requirements of a child’s growing heart. Modeled on the valves in the deep veins of the leg, the bileaflet device could be expanded as needed using a minimally invasive balloon catheter procedure.

The researchers tested the device using benchtop prototypes, computer simulations, and a large-animal model. The device functioned well across a range of sizes and, the team found, allowed good blood flow, which could reduce the potential for blood clots, often an unwanted side effect of existing prosthetic valves.

The team plans to submit its findings in support of initiating a clinical study of the device.

Hofferberth SC et al., Science Translational Medicine, February 2020