Improving Heart Surgeries with Mechanical Engineering

Posted on Monday, October 6, 2014

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” means a lot for many of us, but not many understand as much as uOttawa Professor Michel Labrosse that our heart is our ultimate treasure. Professor Labrosse has dedicated his career to researching ways to improve the repair of heart valves. This expert in cardiovascular and computational mechanics explains how he has been able to ‘Defy the Conventional’ through his research.

Michel Labrosse

Imagine a cardiac surgeon having detailed information on the valve to be operated on! This is what my current research on the functioning of the aortic valve aims to achieve, to ultimately minimise surgical trial-and-error during the operation. I am especially interested in a medical condition where the valve is leaky, namely aortic insufficiency.

Aortic insufficiency is a heart disease associated with unwanted back-flow of blood, which reduces the heart’s capability to efficiently pump blood throughout the body.

Most often, open-heart surgery is needed to treat severe cases of aortic insufficiency. The greatest technical challenge is to operate on an unpressurized and shrunken valve which is quite different from its functional state. This is a very difficult operation, to the point that the valve is commonly taken out completely, and a replacement valve is put in.

As a specialist in cardiovascular mechanics, I can help improve the valve repair procedure by providing precise information regarding the patient’s valve. Thanks to simulation tools used in mechanical engineering, I conduct virtual surgery and simulate the aortic valve dynamics over the cardiac cycle. We will start clinical trials within two years in order to provide physicians with useful information on the valve to be repaired well before the surgery, thereby increasing the odds of success.   

To date, our concept has been proven for normal heart valves as studied in 3D images obtained from healthy subjects. With my students, we were able to simulate these perfectly functional valves with great level of accuracy at the Cardiovascular Mechanics Laboratory. I am collaborating with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and other partners to broaden our trials. One of the next steps will consist in obtaining approval from Health Canada and other authorities to apply our models in real patients.

At uOttawa, our work has reached an unrivaled level of integration between medical imaging and simulation tools for heart valves. This will help make aortic valve repair procedures more reliable and more widely used.


Did you know? There are four heart valves:

  • Mitral
  • Aortic
  • Tricuspid
  • Pulmonary valves

The Mitral and Aortic valves frequently present with heart valve disease.

  • Replacement valves either require lifelong anti-coagulation therapy with frequent adjustments, or deteriorate within 10 to 15 years of implantation, to the point that a new surgery is required.
  • The aortic valves are very different from one person to another; most of them have three leaflets, but each has a fairly unique shape.

Today, heart surgeons have very little information on the state of the aortic valve before performing a surgery. Therefore, they must improvise a lot.

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