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University of Missouri

Safety Valve

Researchers reduce the risk of a life-extending surgical procedure.

Ahmed Sherif El-Gizawy and Raja Gopaldas

El-Gizawy, left, (photo by Shane Epping) and Gopaldas (photo by Justin Kelley).

Worldwide, 250,000 patients a year are compelled to take the grave risk of undergoing open-heart surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve, but 50,000 more are too sick to endure the long procedure. A new and less-invasive approach exists that employs a catheter to set a new heart valve, but it carries a serious risk of its own. The act of placing the new valve sometimes leads to a stroke by loosening calcium deposits that then ride the bloodstream into the brain. Now, a physician-engineer team at MU is using $150,000 from the Coulter Translational Partnership Program to develop a solution. The researchers are Ahmed Sherif El-Gizawy, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Raja Gopaldas, cardiothoracic surgeon and co-director of the MU Biodesign Program. Surgeons will transport the researchers’ mesh barrier through the femoral artery and place it in the aorta where it will divert any calcium fragments away from the brain and toward other organs that can better tolerate them. The Coulter program funds physician-engineer teams to help move lifesaving products from the research stage into patient care.