Heart defects occur in almost 1 percent of all live births and usually include abnormalities of the semilunar heart valves. Few options exist for treating valve defects;even so, these corrections are only palliative and do not preclude the need for re-operation on the valve later in the patient's life. The prognosis for these patients would be revolutionized by the development of a living, autologous, pediatric tissue engineered heart valve (TEHV). A major hurdle in the development of TEHVs is creating a scaffold with valve-like material behavior and microstructure. Furthermore, most research on TEHVs has focused on achieving design goals that are appropriate for adult heart valves, not those of infants and children. The primary microstructural attributes of the semilunar heart valves (aortic and pulmonary) are their anisotropic nature and their layered structure, which provide valvular interstitial cells (VICs) with heterogeneous pericellular environments. These characteristics are not provided by the polymer mesh scaffolds being investigated for TEHVs, and there is little consensus about optimal strategies to produce acellular leaflet scaffolds. Many groups including ours have investigated natural and synthetic gel-based scaffolds for studies of VIC biology and pathology, but these have generally seeded VICs within or atop homogeneous structures. Therefore, we hypothesize that novel hydrogel-based scaffolds can be prepared using biomaterial fabrication methods to generate TEHV scaffolds that mimic the complex structure, mechanical function, biological heterogeneity, and anti-thrombotic nature of pediatric semilunar valves. Hydrogel biomaterials are biocompatible, have tunable structure and mechanics, can be biofunctionalized, and can easily encapsulate cells. In addition, pediatric heart valves are distinct from adult valves on a mechanical, microstructural, and cellular basis. Furthermore, little is known about the endothelium of pediatric heart valves, even though an intact endothelium is considered necessary for success of TEHVs. Our lab is uniquely positioned to perform this research, as we have characterized age-related differences in valve mechanics and microstructure as well as of tissues and cells from congenitally malformed pediatric semilunar valves. We also have generated novel structures and regions of differential material behavior within PEGDA hydrogels. Our objective is to apply advanced biomaterial strategies for creating pediatric TEHVs. We propose to apply patterning and quasi-layering approaches to develop hydrogel TEHV biomaterial scaffolds with customized structural features that replicate the micro-architecture, material properties, mechanical function, and durability of pediatric semilunar valves (Aim 1). To promote a valve-like enthothelial coating of the pediatric TEHV, we will then evaluate the endothelial characteristics of pediatric semilunar valves and modify the scaffold surface (Aim 2). Employing these advanced hydrogel/biomaterial strategies will generate a novel TEHV scaffold that mimics the biological and mechanical heterogeneity of native semilunar valves, and hasten the translation of this life-changing therapy for pediatric patients with valvular heart disease.

Public Health Relevance

Heart valve defects are among the most common birth defects, but the available options for surgical repair of these valves are not ideal and require children to have repeat surgery every few years. We propose to develop a hydrogel-based scaffold to be used in tissue engineering a replacement heart valve for children with congenital valve defects. Our goal is to prepare this scaffold in such a way to recreate the complex structure of pediatric heart valves, test the durability of these scaffolds, and coat the surface of the scaffold with endothelial cells to prevent blood clots from forming.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Biomaterials and Biointerfaces Study Section (BMBI)
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Lundberg, Martha
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Rice University
Biomedical Engineering
Schools of Engineering
United States
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Balaoing, Liezl Rae; Post, Allison Davis; Lin, Adam Yuh et al. (2015) Laminin Peptide-Immobilized Hydrogels Modulate Valve Endothelial Cell Hemostatic Regulation. PLoS One 10:e0130749
Balaoing, Liezl R; Post, Allison D; Liu, Huiwen et al. (2014) Age-related changes in aortic valve hemostatic protein regulation. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 34:72-80