Heart valves regulate blood flow through the heart. The mitral and tricuspid valves (AV) are inlet valves located between the upper chambers (atria) and the lower chambers (ventricles). The aortic and pulmonary valves are outlet valves (SV) located in the arteries leaving the heart.
• Stenosis – narrowing that limits blood flow. Stenosed valves may, in some cases, be treated via heart catheterization that inflates a balloon to separate valve cusps.
• Regurgitation – backward leaking, where valve flaps don’t close tightly and blood flows in the wrong direction. Treatment usually means surgical replacement of the valve.
Faulty heart valves can either be repaired or replaced. Traditional treatment involves open heart surgery – a highly invasive procedure that includes cutting through the sternal bone, stopping the heart and repairing or replacing the valve with an artificial heart valve.
Researchers have been looking for a minimally invasive intervention that can be performed without stopping the heart and without opening the chest, thereby minimizing pain, hospital stay, recovery time, and risk of infections. Trans-catheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) provides a promising treatment for high risk patients that cannot undergo open heart surgery. The trans-catheter aortic valve is made of three cusps or leaflets sutured on a stent-like metal frame that can be crimped on a balloon, inserted in the groin or in the chest, and carefully guided towards the heart.