Latvian scientists have managed to isolate the perfect material for the manufacture of heart valve prostheses. This new and unique material gradually merges with the human organism’s cells, which accept the artificial prosthesis over time. This result was achieved in research supervised by Riga Stradins University.
Head researcher of RSU Biomechanics Laboratory, heart surgeon Martins Kalejs says: «We have researched that the most appropriate solution is a combined synthetic nanofibre material that fits the heart valve’s natural mechanical properties. It is sufficiently dense to withstand constant pressure created by blood circulation in the heart. It is also porous enough to house human cells. These cells will gradually reform heart fibres anew, gradually replacing the prosthesis in the process. Therefore, the nanofibre heart valve frame is used to regrow a healthy heart valve. The current challenge is producing this combined material to continue research of its other possible applications. After a couple of failed attempts to create it abroad, we have decided to create this material in Latvia in cooperation with Local physicists. The manufacture process is not exactly simple as well – the material has to be woven in an electric field from incredibly thin threads, whose diameter is measured in nanometres.»
Among the prostheses used in medicine now, the most popular ones are heart valve replacements made from specially processed porcine aortic valve or bovine pericardium tissue. Such prostheses have certain flaws. They wear out in time, become harder and lose their functionality. They are also incompatible with the human organism – meaning they do not adapt to the human tissue. If a person undergoes a heart surgery involving the replacement of heart valves with artificial modern-age mechanical carbon prostheses, that person has to take blood-thinning medicines for the remainder of his or her life to avoid the formation of blood clots. Approximately 900 heart valve surgeries are performed in Latvia every year, as reported by RSU.
The search for the perfect artificial replacement for heart valves continues in Europe and the rest of the world. Researchers are working together to find the perfect solution. «There are entire institutes in Europe, complete with enormous budgets to accomplish the same goal as us. The resources we have at our disposal do not even come close to theirs,» comments RSU associated professor Peteris Stradins. «But our main advantage lies in biomechanics research traditions here are RSU, which have been on a very high level for decades. Prior to Kalejs, I have done that, and so have the others before me. Research like this has a certain heritage. We have gathered a great deal of experience and massive amounts of data. Initial research focused on the hows and whys of the heart’s structure and properties and the influence of different factors on them (age, gender, diseases, etc.). We have reached a new level – our search covers the use of nano and biological materials that can be used to replace structural elements of blood vessels in the human heart. We don’t look too bad in the context of world science. In the event of success, we would be the first to accomplish the creation of such a unique prosthesis. Success does, however, depend on the next stages of our research,» – said Stradins.
Scientists mention that one of the main factors that hinder the development of Latvia’s science is low state funding to science. In order to complete important research work, it is not enough to have a couple of bright minds. It is necessary to also secure experienced and stable technical staff to carry out everyday tasks. However, it is impossible to sustain research teams with periodic grants.