New heart valve could reduce need for life-long medication

Today the British Heart Foundation (BHF) announces funding of over £750,000 to University of Cambridge researchers looking to develop a new type of man-made heart valve which could be used to treat people whose heart valves are permanently damaged.

The funding is announced as part of the BHF’s new research strategy (1). The BHF has committed to spending over half a billion pounds on research in the next five years but the charity is completely reliant on public donations so this funding will only be possible with continued support.

Every year around 300,000 man-made valves are used to replace patients’ faulty heart valves (2). Man-made, or mechanical, valves are more durable than biological valves made from animal tissues which are the other option for valve replacement. However, they also require a person to remain on medication to prevent their blood from clotting around the valve.

The Cambridge research team, led by Dr Geoff Moggridge, hope to make and test man-made valves that are both durable and are also specifically designed to prevent unwanted blood clotting. This would mean that once a patient’s faulty heart valve had been replaced they would no longer need to take medication.

George from Cuffley had an aortic valve replacement in 2011, when he had a mechanical aortic valve fitted and is now taking Warfarin, he said:

“Before I had my new valve fitted I used to keep very active, I rowed for Cambridge University in the Oxford/Cambridge boat races and ran the London Marathon. After the operation I gave myself a clear goal – to run again.

“Each day I thought about crossing a finish line and slowly worked towards it one day at a time.  As I slowly recovered my then five year old son walked or cycled alongside me and he inspired me to keep going – we’ve both now got a bit faster and regularly go out running together, with my younger daughter helping at home coming up with exercises for circuit training for the three of us to do!

“As an individual I have had an amazing journey over the last few years, but through personal perseverance and the determination to make the best of the hand dealt, I now lead a full and active life again.”

Dr Moggridge said: “Surgeons have been successfully replacing faulty heart valves with man-made valves for many years, giving patients longer, more active lives. However, current man-made valves require the recipients to take anti-clotting medication for the rest of their lives. We hope that with this new valve we can offer people needing a valve replacement a better quality of life and a chance to live even longer.”

The BHF currently funds over £39 million worth of cardiovascular research at the University of Cambridge. As part of their new research strategy, the BHF has committed to spending half a billion pounds on research in the next five years. This money will be used to fund the best researchers working across all areas of cardiovascular disease research. However, this commitment to fund lifesaving research will only be possible with the continued generosity of the UK public.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said:  “This research, being conducted at the University of Cambridge, is a brilliant example of the BHF’s commitment to ensure more research makes it out of the lab so it can hopefully benefit people suffering from cardiovascular disease.

“Hopefully, in the near future we will see the valves being pioneered by Professor Moggridge being used to treat people with faulty heart valves with the aim of reducing the amount of time they will need to spend in hospital throughout their lifetime.”

“The BHF exists to end the suffering caused by all forms of heart and circulatory disease and we’re committed to funding the very best researchers doing the highest quality research in order to achieve that goal.

“We’re only able to fund research like this in Cambridge to improve and save lives because of the generosity of people who donate and fundraise in the area and around the country. Your continued support will help us deliver on our plans for research over the next five years.”

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