Engineer Makes Breakthrough

Dr. Arash Kheradvar, a fellow of the American Heart Association and a biomedical engineering professor at UC Irvine, was recently awarded $200,000 that will be given out over two years by the Children’s Heart Foundation to further develop hybrid tissue-engineered heart valve technology. Kheradvar was also awarded a Grant-in-Aid from the American Heart Association to study patients with right-sided heart failure, using UCI’s state-of-the-art 4-D flow echocardiography technology.

Courtesy Of Arash Kheradvar

Courtesy Of Arash Kheradvar

Kheradvar, originally from Iran, started medical school right after high school. He began his seven year medical program at Tehran University and graduated with an M.D. in 2000. He practiced for two years, and then came to the U.S. in 2002 where he attended the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, studying bioengineering for his Ph.D. Following his graduation from Cal Tech in 2006, Kheradvar started his own lab, KLAB (Kherdavar Research Group) at the University of South Carolina in 2007. Soon after, Kheradvar moved his entire lab to UC Irvine and is now a part of the Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology.

KLAB has three main research focuses: heart valve engineering, cardiovascular imaging, and cardiac mechanics. In the heart valve engineering focus, researchers are currently working on four different types of heart valves. The cardiovascular imaging section utilizes technology that takes images of the heart using the 4-D flow echocardiograph. The cardiac mechanic focus studies fluid dynamics and solid mechanics of the heart from a more engineering perspective.

KLAB is comprised of UCI students, specifically post-doctoral fellows from UCI.

“I’m basically interested in a small group of people, but experts. Something that I always look for is people who are experts, highly motivated and have a fundamental background in science and engineering,” Kheradvar said.

Using their recent grant from the Children’s Heart Foundation, Kherdavar and his research team will study hybrid tissue-engineered heart valves.

“The idea comes from the movie Terminator. Basically [it’s a] mechanical heart valve which is made of thin layers of nitinol. Nitinol is a nickel-titanium alloy. And then we grow the patient’s own cell over that. In less than eight weeks we have a heart valve made of the size of the patient and also by the cell of the patient. So we anticipate that when we implant these heart valves in the patient, they’re going to act like the patient’s own organ,” Kheradvar explained.

The hybrid tissue-engineered heart valve is ultimately placed when a patient’s biological heart valve fails completely.  The biological valve fails in two ways: either they are calcified which means that the valve is open and does not allow enough blood to flow through, or it is leaking. It is during these instances that a patient would need surgery for a new heart valve.

A hybrid tissue-engineered heart valve has never been done before. “They’re [usually] tissue engineered; so far none of them are in clinics because they have their own problems, when they’re pure tissue engineered,” Kheradvar said. Heart valves usually take about nine months to develop; they adapt themselves and become durable inside the body. Tissue engineered heart valves are made up in a couple of months or so, therefore when they are exposed to higher pressures in the heart, they will not last a very long time; they dissolve and for that reason are not clinically used.

“There are a lot of heart valves available; different artificial heart valves which are very good — some of them. But this type of hybrid heart valve tissue-engineering has never been done before. We are the pioneers in that field,” Kheradvar stated.

The American Heart Association grant he received allows him to study right-sided heart failure using UC Irvine’s 4-D flow echocardiography technology, which is related to cardiovascular imaging, KLAB’s second main focus of study. Currently there is no perceptible information available on flow patterns inside the right ventricle; therefore the 4-D echocardiography will help the lab better look into patients with this specific failure.

Kheradvar and his research team have published over 20 journal articles over the years. “What I do is I generate a new field. We have papers on echocardiographic particle image velocimetry; that was basically the beginning of the field,” Kheradvar said. “We have been working a lot on the flow inside the heart; we have been the pioneer in that field [too].”

Kheradvar currently teaches classes related to his fields of research study. At the undergraduate level he teaches biomechanics, mainly related to the flow inside the body. At the graduate level, he teaches a course in biofluid mechanics, an introduction course to cardiovascular engineering.

For Kheradvar, doing research that can positively help and influence the greater community is what is most important. “I’ve been a successful medical doctor and I really enjoyed that, but then I felt that if I come back to the research and come with new technologies, I would be able to impact a population of patients, rather than a few patients I can meet,” Kheradvar said. “I think the fact I’m doing research, that this research is going to help patients, I think that’s the most fascinating thing to me. I really hope that what we are doing right now will have a major effect [on the] quality of life of patients around the word. That’s something that’s my passion and makes me happy.”