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Synthetic heart valves could help surgeons improve surgical skills

By Surgical Tribune
September 05, 2016

KELOWNA, British Columbia, Canada: A new invention has made it possible for doctors to vastly improve their bypass surgery techniques without relying on animals. The polyvinyl tissue makes it possible for surgeons and medical residents to practice bypass surgery using the synthetic material as opposed to the current practice of using the arteries and veins of porcine or human cadavers.

The synthetic heart valves, arteries and veins made of polyvinyl alcohol-hydrogel were created by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna.

“One of the major issues with using arteries from human or animal cadavers is that they break down very quickly if they are not treated with preservatives,” said inventor Dr. Hadi Mohammadi, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the university. “This synthetic material doesn’t decompose and can’t be contaminated, meaning doctors can practice their technique almost anywhere. An added benefit is that this material can be created safely and cheaply, which could solve any issues surgeons currently have in accessing practice materials.”

The invention is already being used for teaching purposes by a number of surgeons and medical residents at the Kelowna General Hospital in British Columbia’s interior.

The new synthetic material is designed to feel like living human tissue and provides a number of benefits over what is currently being done, explained co-inventor Dr. Guy Fradet, head of cardiovascular surgery at the hospital and an associate professor in the university’s Faculty of Medicine.

“A problem with using arteries from animals or human cadavers for practicing bypass surgery is that they feel different than living human tissue,” stated Fradet. “The more realistic we can make surgical practice, the easier it will be to prepare surgeons for the operating room, which can only benefit patients.”

The synthetic heart valves, veins and arteries are currently being used to practice bypass surgery on actual hearts harvested from pigs. However, the two inventors are at present working towards creating a synthetic heart using the new material, which could then be used to largely eliminate the need to use any animal or human cadaver tissues and organs when practicing heart surgery.

The study, titled “Simulation of anastomosis in coronary artery bypass surgery,” was published on July 20 online ahead of print in the Cardiovascular Engineering and Technology journal.

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