A consortium of international researchers under the European Union (EU) funded LifeValve project has used computer simulations to design regenerative heart valves and predict their growth inside the body.
The team included participation from Switzerland’s University of Zurich (UZH), the Dutch Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin in Germany.
Regenerative medicine involves the use of tissue engineering to grow replacement parts in the laboratory from human cells. These parts are used to restore normal functioning of defective cells and tissues in the body.
Such bioengineered replacements are considered more beneficial than existing artificial implants as they do not cause immune reactions and could grow and regenerate on their own.
The team based its research on cardiovascular tissue engineering, which involves treatment of heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate.
They employed computer simulations to predict how the cultured heart valves would grow, regenerate, and function inside the body, and successfully implanted them in sheep.
UZH Institute of Regenerative Medicine professor Simon Hoerstrup said: “Thanks to the simulations, we can optimise the design and composition of the regenerative heart valves and develop customised implants for use in therapy.”
The researchers said that the results from their study offer a basic conceptual contribution that can help in the adoption of new bioengineering technologies for clinical use in regenerative medicine.
However, the team believes that they have to overcome certain challenges, including the size of a valve, before the technology can be made commercially available.
Hoerstrup noted: “One of the biggest challenges for complex implants such as heart valves is that each patient’s potential for regeneration is different. There is, therefore, no one-size-fits-all solution.”
The Children’s Hospital Zurich is planning a study to treat children with congenital heart defects using tissue engineered blood vessels developed under the LifeMatrix project by Wyss Zurich centre.