UCT science saves millions

26 October 2017 - 07:59 By Dave Chambers

A cheap mass-produced plastic heart valve, invented and made in Cape Town, is expected to save the lives of millions of young people.

After eight years of research, 150 rheumatic heart disease patients will have it inserted in 2018 in a full-scale clinical trial.

Peter Zilla, leader of the development team and head of the Christiaan Barnard department of cardiothoracic surgery at UCT
Peter Zilla, leader of the development team and head of the Christiaan Barnard department of cardiothoracic surgery at UCT
Image: SUPPLIED

Instead of open heart surgery, which requires expensive machines and specialist hospitals and surgeons, the valve can be inserted at a rural hospital by a general surgeon through a small incision.

"A self-homing hollow balloon carries the valve into the heart," said Peter Zilla, head of the Christiaan Barnard cardiothoracic surgery department at the University of Cape Town, who led the team that developed the valve and the insertion technique.

"The heart continues to beat during the implantation of the valve without interrupting the blood flow to the brain and the other organs."

The announcement of the breakthrough, which offers the hope of cheap life-saving surgery to 33 million people worldwide with rheumatic heart disease, was made just before the 50th anniversary on December 3 of the world's first heart transplant - performed in Cape Town by Professor Christiaan Barnard.

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