Fifty years ago Christian Barnard performed the world’s first open heart surgery in Cape Town, at Groote Schuur Hospital. Fifty years later, another local ground-breaking medical innovation is set to take the medical world by storm. Essentially, a plastic valve was created to help with less invasive heart surgery. A balloon device carries and implants the valve into the heart with minimal invasion.

The heart valve is cost-effective and easily mass-produced because it is made of plastic. It was developed and manufactured right here in the Mother City by a team of cardiothoracic surgeons from the University of Cape Town (UCT).  The clinical trial will get the green light for the roll-out in 2018. The valve will be administered to 150 rheumatic heart disease patients and they will be monitored closely.

Professor Peter Zilla, head of the Christiaan Barnard Department for Cardiothoracic Surgery at UCT, is leading the team who developed the valve and its insertion technique. He explained that the procedure used to insert the valve does not require open-heart surgery, ensuring a continuously beating heart without interrupting blood flow to the brain. In short, a self-homing hollow balloon carries the valve into the heart.

heart valve
The valve. Image supplied.

Rheumatic heart disease affects about 33-million people across the globe and occurs mostly in young patients aged 14-30, living in crowded conditions with limited access to healthcare facilities.

The team behind the groundbreaking valve is further looking into tissue regeneration to create living replacement heart valves that can grow with the patient.


Photography Unsplash

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