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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


Dr Marta Serrani, postdoctoral researcher in our structured materials group has advanced to the semi-final stage of the Cambridge Enterprise Postdoc Business Plan Competition.

The competition aims to help postdocs in the University commercialise their ideas, providing training and mentoring in how to prepare and pitch a business plan, and giving competitors the chance to gain investment to start their company. Dr Serrani’s start-up, Polivalve, will look to bring the prosthetic heart valves developed by our structured materials research group to the market.

Dr Serrani works with Professor Geoff Moggridge and fellow postdoc Joanna Stasiak, developing a prosthetic heart valve that could change lives.

Heart valve replacement is the second most common heart surgery, with surgeons carrying out around 9,000 valve replacements in the UK every year. Currently, the two options for replacement valves are mechanical – made from carbon-coated titanium – or tissue valves made from fixed animal tissue (pig valve or cow pericardium). Animal valves only last 10-15 years before they need to be replaced and last even less time in young patients. Mechanical valves last much longer, but because of how they open and close, patients have to take medication to prevent blood clotting for the rest of their lives.

The valve that Dr Serrani and her colleagues have developed is made from a special co-polymer, with the durability and flexibility needed to effectively simulate a natural heart valve. The current ISO standard for replacement heart valves is that they must be able to withstand 200 million repetitions of opening and closing. This is the equivalent of about five years in a human heart. The team’s current prototypes have already surpassed this, lasting over 800 million cycles (the tests are still ongoing, without failure), equivalent to over 21 years of operation. The valves are currently being tested in animals, the next crucial step to bringing the treatment to patients.

“The project is both very interesting from a fundamental science point of view but also it’s something that we know is useful and can really be applied to help people,” said Dr Serrani.

“Trying to start up is the next step if we want to move forward – to bring this to the market and do something better than what’s currently available and give people freedom from anti-coagulation medication.

“As researchers, we’re used to thinking what’s best from a scientific point of view but not necessarily from a customer point of view. I thought it would be good to get an idea for how it works to start a company and develop my own knowledge of how businesses work in general.”

As a semi-finalist, Dr Serrani will work with a mentor from Cambridge Enterprise to develop her business plan further, before it is reviewed in late September. Finalists will go on to pitch their plans in several events throughout October.

Co-organised by Entrepreneurial Postdocs of Cambridge and sponsored by Taylor Vintners and Hardcastle Burton, the competition offers three prizes of £20,000, £10,000 and £5,000 in funding, with all finalists awarded a one-year membership at ideaSpace.

We wish Dr Serrani all the best for the next stages of the competition. 

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