If heart valves were dial gauges, the aortic valve would be a car speedometer, says Michael Sacks, director of the ICES Center for Cardiovascular Simulation. Its anatomical features are straightforward, self-contained structures that can be replaced when diseased. But the mitral valve — which is responsible for receiving oxygenated blood from the lungs into the heart — is more akin to an airplane cockpit: complex and interconnected, with changes in one area causing outcomes in others.
Sacks is working to improve long-term repair outcomes by creating a computational replica of the valve that maps the complex network of stresses that influence the valve’s form and function. His vision for the model is as a patient-specific predictive tool, enabling surgeons to test various repair approaches before stepping into the operating room.
A $6.6 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) Bioengineering Research Partnership grant funds Sacks’ work. Collaborators include Ajit Yoganathan from the Georgia Institute for Technology in Atlanta and Joseph Gorman from Pennsylvania State University. Although the team is only six months into the grant-funded research, Sacks says the model is already well on its way to replicating the natural mitral valve.