$2.5 Million Awarded to Develop Better Heart Valve Treatment

March 16, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas — A University of Texas at Austin professor and his research collaborators have been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to conduct research that will significantly increase our knowledge about artificial heart valves and lead to the development of valves that are more durable and dependable than those currently used in heart treatment.

The four-year grant was awarded to Dr. Michael Sacks, who has joint appointments in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Biomedical Engineering Department and the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES), and his collaborators Dr. Joseph Gorman, a professor of cardiovascular surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Naren Vyavahare, a professor of bioengineering at Clemson University.

“This research grant is a testament to Dr. Sacks’ knowledge and capabilities in the field of cardiovascular mechanics. By coupling his computational simulation expertise with medical imaging and biomechanical experimentation, he is developing new and transformative ways to treat heart and valvular disease – a research contribution that will help hundreds of thousands of people around the world,” said Gregory L. Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.

Tinsley Oden, associate vice president for research at The University of Texas at Austin, director of ICES and a professor in the Cockrell School's Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, said Sacks has already brought recognition to the university since joining as a faculty member in fall 2011.

"This substantial new project that he and his collaborators have been awarded is testament of his high standing in his field and the ongoing impact of his work on a subject vital to the health and well-being of all humanity," Oden said.

The most popular replacement modality for damaged heart valves today are bioprosthetic heart valves, which are derived from soft tissues and synthetic materials. The artificial valves have a 10- to 15-year life span, however, meaning patients may need to undergo more than one major valve-replacement surgery in their lifetimes.

Sacks said bioprosthetic heart valves are based on biomaterials developed more than four decades ago, and that the inability to improve their performance over that time is a result of a lack in understanding of the fundamental valve biomechanics and how they are stressed over time when implanted in the heart.

Through the research grant, Sacks and his collaborators will develop an integrated approach to simulate the fatigue damage behavior of bioprosthetic heart valves and use these simulations to develop xenograft biomaterials with improved durability.

The research will be a highly collaborative effort, integrating computational biomechanical simulations of biomaterial performance and data from large animal studies. The development of the models will enable researchers to determine how to improve the structural durability of bioprosthetic heart valves, which deteriorate because of calcification and stresses from the mechanical demands of blood flow.

“There is a tremendous need for technical improvements for these valves. New surgical techniques to implant valves all depend on materials and design,” Sacks said.

Sacks will develop models in the ICES Center for Cardiovascular Simulation’s computational engineering laboratory, as well as conduct key experiments in the center’s biomechanical experimental laboratories, which reside in the Cockrell School’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Sacks holds the W.A. “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. Simulation-Based Engineering Science Chair.

For more information, contact: Melissa Mixon, Cockrell School of Engineering, 512 934 8155.