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Engineer develops implant that saves his own life

Tal Golesworthy faced a lifetime of blood-thinning drugs after his aorta threatened to rupture. Instead, the process engineer invented his own implant, with help from scientists and doctors.

Faced with risky medical treatments, a British engineer with a heart condition struck his own path and developed a device that didn't require taking prescription drugs for the rest of his life.

As profiled in The Engineer, Tal Golesworthy developed the device after he was informed by doctors that his aorta was in danger of splitting. Golesworthy suffers from Marfan syndrome, an inherited disorder that affects the connective tissue of the body and could rupture the aorta, the main artery from the heart.

Those with aortas at risk are usually faced with receiving "Bentall surgery," a five-hour procedure that involves cutting out the damaged section of the aorta, removing the aortic valve and replacing it with a graft and a mechanical valve.

It also means taking Warfarin, a blood-thinning drug, to keep things operating as intended.

Golesworthy had different plans.

Ellie Zolfagharifard reports:

What excited him was the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer-aided design (CAD). He believed that by combining these technologies with rapid prototyping (RP) techniques he could manufacture a tailor-made support that would act as an internal bandage to keep his aorta in place.

The concept, he hoped, would reduce the risk of harmful clots forming due to the mechanical valve and importantly, eliminate the need to take Warfarin.

Enlisting the help of two surgeons and medical radiographers, Golesworthy developed a scanning protocol that could help him develop an actual device to implant.

Zolfagharifard, again:

By scanning the heart at the same point in the cardiac cycle, the team was able to mitigate some of the dimensional inaccuracies. Once acquired, the information was used in a CAD process that would convert the data into a life-size replica of the aorta. A number of RP techniques were tested, including fuse deposition modelling and stereolithography, with the team finally opting for selected laser sintering (SLS).

With the scans, the team was able to produce a three-dimensional thermoplastic model of the aorta, made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, in a textile solution. This allowed them to form a mesh directly onto the model to create an exact fit. The mesh would then be sutured into place by a surgeon.

The process took two years. In May 2004, Golesworthy had his own invention implanted. Since then, 23 patients have followed; the device has been commercialized under the name "ExoVasc" by Exstent Limited.

The technique could replace the Bentall method entirely.

To be sure, the invention is a wonderful example of healthcare innovation. But it's also a great example of how biologists and medical doctors worked with process engineers to solve a problem.

UK engineer develops own life-saving implant [The Engineer]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com