Mechanical Engineering

BioReactor could have big impact on saving small hearts

We recently heard from a valued client of ours and learned some great news. Using the BioReactor we helped design and manufacture, Dr. Richard Hopkins and his team at Children's Mercy Hospital, Kansas City, have been able to reach a major milestone in their development of a process for replacing heart valves in children.

This news immediately took me back to one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed — open heart surgery on an infant. As part of our project, I observed this incredible and delicate feat of medical care along with Kent Kallsen, Design Concepts vice president of engineering. We both came away from this emotional experience highly motivated to do whatever we could to help Dr. Hopkin’s and his team improve and save the lives of these tiny patients.

Dr. Hopkins and his team at the Cardiac Regenerative Surgery Research Labs at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Kansas City are pioneering a technique for growing semi-autologous heart valves for replacement surgeries. In simple terms, this means a child could receive a heart valve that grows with them throughout the course of their lives. This has the potential to change the course of treatment to a single cardiac surgical event from the more typical course of treatment that involves many open heart surgeries over the course of childhood to replace valves no longer large enough for a growing heart.

A couple years ago, the team approached Design Concepts about developing the BioReactor to help them research and ultimately commercialize their process. The challenge was to provide a set of equipment that allowed three distinct stages: stripping the donor valve of all tissue, allowing the resulting scaffold to wick stem cells under controlled conditions, and finally placing the valve into a chamber to provide tension, pulsing action and a continuous stream of nutrients and other media to encourage full seeding.

Our design approach focused on keeping things simple. Our view throughout the project was to simply “get the job done” and make sure the equipment did not hinder or confuse any of the steps. The magic is in the medicine and the equipment should do the few things it needs to do, and do them well.

This news immediately took me back to one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed — open heart surgery on an infant.

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