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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

Dance My PhD

'Dance Your PhD' is a worldwide competition run by Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The idea is to convey your PhD research through the medium of dance.

Jacob Brubert completed his PhD in this department and his entry explains the science of heart valve bioengineering. It is based upon his PhD thesis entitled "A novel polymeric prosthetic heart valve: design, manufacture, and testing" and has just won the overall prize!  He wins $1000 for his effort and a trip to Boston next year for a screening and talk at the AAAS annual meeting.

The dance tells the story of "A polymeric prosthetic heart valve", starting at the Mathematical Bridge at Queens' College with a broken heart.

A surgeon can replace the diseased valve with a prosthesis. A pair of salsa dancers show how one type of valve is made from animal tissue. The bioprosthetic valve is well tolerated by blood, but the durability is limited.

Alternatively, a mechanical valve with rigid leaflets can be used. Cue tap dance. The mechanical valve is poorly tolerated by blood and requires lifelong anticoagulation, but the valve is durable enough to outlive the patient.

Two options, but could there be a better way?

Could a flexible polymer be used in prosthetic heart valves to achieve durability and blood compatibility?

Block copolymers can consist of a glassy polymer bonded to a rubbery polymer. When tuned correctly, the glassy polymers will self assemble into stiff cylinders, embedded in a rubbery bulk. Injection moulding can be used to orient these stiff cylinders, mimicking the natural valve, and reinforcing the leaflets.

The polymeric valve must be tested (using water pistols, hula hoops and cyr wheels, and juggling balls, in the Chemistry Department car park!). The blood flow is good and the polymer is well tolerated by the blood. The durability is OK but not yet good enough.


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