Originally Published MPMN
Heart Researchers Don't Miss a Beat
This editorial could be the one article you’ve read in the past several months that mentions pigs and doesn’t have to do with swine flu. Because, after all, swine flu isn’t the only thing pigs and humans have in common—they also share very similar mitral valves. And that shared feature has actually prompted good news on the medical front: A research team at North Carolina State University (NC State) has developed an innovative machine to facilitate device design that reaps the benefits of early-phase testing on porcine mitral valves without the need for live animals.
Designed to assist in the development of surgical tools and devices for mitral valve repair, the “dynamic heart system” consists of a computer-controlled positive-displacement pump, a left atrial reservoir, and an aortic outflow pathway. Together, these components can pump saline through an explanted porcine heart to simulate physiological conditions of the human heart’s left atrium and mitral valve. The system offers early-stage testing in a natural, anatomically correct environment without the use of live animals.
Potential benefits of this machine are multifold. In addition to providing a realistic environment, the system allows for proof-of-concept testing and subsequent necessary redesigns prior to animal testing. With this capability, there is the potential for less animal sacrifice and better device designs at the live animal testing phase. And any method that allows for less animal testing without compromising progress or safety is worth exploring in my book.
Also worth exploring are the significant reductions in cost and time potentially offered by the beating heart model. “Fresh pig hearts are readily available from pork processing centers for approximately $5, enabling realistic trials at a fraction of the cost of animal trials, [which are] approximately $2500 per animal,” says Gregory Buckner, one of the system’s developers and an associate professor in NC State’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
By using the system, OEMs can also eliminate the long wait times associated with securing approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee for animal trials early on in the process, according to the researchers. Able to draw from local resources, such as pork processing plants, manufacturers can test concepts much faster than if they required a live animal for these initial design phases. “While this technology does not eliminate the need for live animal trials, it enables testing of prototypes in a realistic surgical environment much earlier in the development cycle. This could reduce development time and costs,” Buckner adds.
Offering expedited development, cost reductions, and a more animal-friendly approach, this beating heart model should make heart device and surgical tool manufacturers happier than a pig in mud.
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