Minimally invasive heart surgery research wins $5 million NIH award
Grant aimed at developing tools for beating-heart surgery
September 5, 2007
Efforts to make heart surgery a minimally invasive procedure have earned a five-year, $5 million National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Research Partnership award. Cardiac surgeon Pedro del Nido, MD, at Children's Hospital Boston, Professor Pierre Dupont of Boston University's College of Engineering, and microdevice manufacturer Microfabrica Inc. (Van Nuys, CA) will collaborate to develop instruments and procedures that promise to bring the precision of conventional open-heart surgery to minimally invasive instruments and tools, allowing complex surgical repairs to be made while the heart is still beating.
The new procedures would use catheters to perform repairs inside the heart, without the need to cut the chest open, stop the heart or place the patient on a heart-lung machine. "The repair of complex heart defects through open heart surgery has become routine, in great part because of the availability of cardiopulmonary bypass," says del Nido, who is chief of cardiac surgery at Children's. "But we now know that putting patients on bypass carries some risks and can lead to problems, such as neuromotor defects in children and stroke in adults."
Currently, in comparison with open heart surgery, what can actually be done with a catheter is limited. The partnership hopes to incorporate the best of both approaches. "We want to produce instruments that are as minimally invasive as catheters, but which provide the precision and control of open-heart surgery," says Dupont.
Under the grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the team is developing robotic instruments that could extend into the heart through needle-sized incisions in the chest and heart walls. Using a joystick controller and real-time medical imaging technology, a surgeon could navigate the robotic instrument through the chambers of the heart to the surgical site and deploy an array of tools from its tip to remove blockages, repair faulty valves and close leaks inside the beating heart.
Dupont is developing the instruments and robotics technology needed to perform these tasks, while partnering with Microfabrica to develop a toolbox of millimeter-scale tools that can perform a variety of delicate repairs.
"Using our EFAB? manufacturing process, we can economically produce tiny, robust metal tools to remove and suture tissue," notes Microfabrica chief technology officer Adam Cohen. "These tools can be quickly designed on a computer, then fabricated without the need for assembly, even when they include dozens of moving parts. And while the overall tool is measured in millimeters, it has features measured in microns."
The biggest benefit may be the technology's potential to help all age groups: adults, children and even fetuses. "Working with our clinical partners at Children's Hospital Boston, we're developing different instruments for each of these groups," says Dupont. "Fetal surgery is especially exciting since, in certain cases, repairing a heart defect before birth can greatly improve the chances for the heart to develop normally."
[Note to reporters: High-resolution images are available.]
Children's Hospital Boston is home to the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 10 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children's Hospital Boston today is a 377-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children's also is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about the hospital visit: www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom.
Pedro del Nido, MD