This past Tuesday evening featured a presentation entitled “Minding the Gap: Heart Surgery for the Many” and the speaker was Professor Peter Zilla who holds the Christiaan Barnard Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery. He also serves as the chief executive officer of Strait Access Technologies (SAT), a company that spun out from UCT almost three years ago. The problem that SAT has focused on is rheumatic heart disease where a throat infection, if left untreated, can lead to inflammation and irreversible damage to the heart valves.
The disease affects 75 million people – mostly located in the developing world – and claims 1.4 million lives annually. Treatment involves replacement of the heart valve but current devices are extremely sophisticated and require advanced operating theatres and highly trained cardiac surgeons that are in short supply in developing countries. The team at SAT has developed a synthetic heart valve mounted on a stent that can be mass-produced and a deployment device (see image above) designed to deliver the crimped valve without occluding the blood flow in a beating heart. Crucially, there is no need for open heart surgery or a heart-lung machine.
In the best traditions of Café Scientifique, Zilla’s presentation was followed by a series of searching questions in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere.