My research group is developing synthetic heart valves. Today they are replacing cadavers for surgery practice and education. Tomorrow they will improve surgical outcomes for patients.
As a biomedical engineer I always try to orient myself to the future so I asked myself, “Which development in medical research has the most promise? What is a huge problem that needs solving?”
While surgery can result in the relief of symptoms for patients, many are poor surgical candidates because aging and other health issues may affect their ability to recover. Implanting a prosthetic valve will make a huge impact on the prognosis of these patients.
We’ve already developed a valve with the right physical and mechanical properties to mimic the structure and function of the real thing. Now we are working on the next stage: ensuring that it is blood compatible.
The valve needs to be rigorously tested before it is ready for surgical use, but it is still playing a very important role in surgery today. Surgeons can practice on it, and medical students can learn with it. The synthetic human tissue feels more like the real thing than cadavers.If an experienced surgeon is not 100% sure how to proceed on a complicated surgery he or she can consult with other surgeons and practice the technique before proceeding. This will shorten the time that a patient is under the knife and minimize postoperative complications. It is already being used by a number of surgeons and medical residents at the Kelowna General Hospital.
In biomedical engineering teamwork is mandatory. I work very closely with surgeons at Kelowna General Hospital and every time I present a design option they come up with an issue or challenge that I have never seen before. It is this interaction that drives the project forward and leads to the best solutions.