News and Features Tissue Engineering and Cardiac Genetics Research Hold Promise for Revolutionizing Cardiovascular Surgery
Living tissue engineering research shaping the future of valve replacement surgery
Presented by Gary Lofland, MD, Section Chief, Cardiovascular Surgery

Richard A. Hopkins, MD, Director of the Cardiac Surgery Research Laboratories at Children's Mercy, is pioneering research in cell and gene engineering to construct living replacement tissue with growth potential.

Dr. Hopkins' team focuses on tissue, cell and gene engineering to repair heart defects in infants, children and young adults. The tissue engineering methods they are developing not only have the potential for creating novel therapies for cardiac defects, but could also be extended to other tissues such as bone, cartilage, muscle and blood vessels in the future.

Unlike manufactured prosthetic devices that are prone to failure due to calcification, material fatigue, lack of growth or rejection, tissue engineering avoids these problems through the use of the patient's own cells, which can continuously remodel the tissue's proteins. These tissue-engineered valves have the potential for growth after being implanted, eliminating the multiple re-operations that are currently needed to replace today’s bio-prosthetic and mechanical heart valves. Additional benefits include eliminating the need for blood thinners and preventing increased loads on already compromised heart muscle.

Ultimately, researchers expect that these patients will have fewer arrhythmias and a much lower risk for heart failure. "In short, tissue engineering offers the promise of replacing defective or missing 'parts' of the heart with design-optimal constructs containing the patient's own cells," says Dr. Hopkins, who holds the Thomas Holder/Keith Ashcraft Endowed Chair in Pediatric Surgery Research. "Thus it will allow for the replacement of current surgical heart valves with viable personal bioengineered cardiovascular structures."

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