Replacing defective heart valves with artificial valves has been carried out successfully for many years, giving patients longer, more active lives. There are, however, considerable drawbacks. Valves made from metal and treated carbon require the patient to take drugs to prevent blood clots, and other valves made from pig tissue are not as durable. Elast-Eon™, a new type of polymer, was developed for use in medical devices including heart valves. Researchers hope that Elast-Eon™ will be able to overcome the shortcomings of existing heart valves.
It was a major technical challenge for researchers to develop a material that had the right combination of durability, flexibility, blood compatibility and the ability to withstand residing within the human body. The team of researchers led by Professor Gordon Meijs of CSIRO Molecular Science’s laboratory in the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Cardiac Technology, developed the new polymer by combining high amounts of silicone with polyurethane. Many years of research found a way to overcome the incompatibility of the two materials to produce a new durable, tear resistant polymer, with the mechanical strength and abrasion resistance of polyurethane and the rubbery flexibility of silicone. The material can be processed into almost any shape, is sufficiently stable so as not to react with the body’s chemical make-up, and hence ideal for producing heart valves. These valves are expected to last between twenty and twenty-five years, as they do not degrade whilst in the body. Elast-Eon™ now comes in four grades, ranging from very flexible to rigid polymers. In 1997, Elastomedic was formed to commercialise this new polymer, and a new polymer synthesis factory opened in October, 1999. In 2000, a UK company, Aortech, purchased Elastomedic, although keeping the Melbourne manufacturing plant open. Aortech, using the Elast-Eon polymer, hope to become one of the leaders in medical devices and implants.