A prosthetic heart valve from nature’s blueprint – Svenja Hinderer receives German Student’s Award

Fraunhofer IGB News /

Currently IGB group manager and former IGVP-doctoral student Dr. Svenja Hinderer was awarded the German Students Award from the Körber Foundation for her doctoral thesis on the development of an electrospun heart valve replacement created from polymers and natural proteins that simulate the structural, mechanical and biochemical properties of natural valve leaflets.

For her doctoral thesis "Electrospinning – a suitable method to generate scaffolds for regenerative medicine applications", the former doctoral student from Stuttgart University's Institute of Interfacial Prcoess Engineering and Plasma Technology (IGPV) was given the German Students Award by the Körber Foundation for her work on a cell-free heart valve replacement, which was performed at the Fraunhofer IGB in the Department of Cell and Tissue Engineering headed by Prof. Dr. Katja Schenke-Layland.

The panel nominated 27 finalists from 418 young scientists in the areas of "humanities", "social science" and "natural sciences and engineering”. Dr. Svenja Hinderer, who completed her doctorate in July 2014 , was chosen as the winner in the area of “natural sciences and engineering”. The award from each area is endowed with a EUR 25,000 prize. The selection criteria for the award were based on the scientific excellence of the doctoral work as well as its potential impact on society. The overall benefit of the work towards the advancement of scientific knowledge was valued over potential economic gain.

Current artificial heart valves do not grow. This is a problem for children that require the valves be regularly replaced as a child grows. The lack of growth and remodeling is also a problem for young to middle aged adults because the valves must be replaced after 25 years. "In order to develop a suitable valve replacement material that maintains the cells in the most physiologically advantageous environment possible, I always looked to nature’s blueprint in my thesis", says Hinderer. The chemist therefore first examined the extracellular matrix of native heart valves in terms of structural, mechanical and biochemical characteristics.

From basic developmental science, a new scaffold was electrospun from a polymer blend of UV-curable polyethylene glycol and polylactide, and then coated with tissue-specific proteins, such as water-binding proteoglycans. The stable yet elastic scaffold can be sterilized and is biocompatible – making it perfectly suitable for medical applications.

Within her work, Hinderer tested her scaffold leaflets in a bioreactor designed to mimic the physiological pressures of the heart, where the material performed excellently. The future goal is to develop a cell-free medical device that binds cells after implantation into the patient, which then allows for the natural remodeling and growth of the valve without an immune reaction. Hinderer, Group Manager for Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering at the Fraunhofer IGB since the beginning of July 2015, now works on protein specific methods to attract circulating stem cells to her scaffolds so they will bind, infiltrate and remodel her scaffolds.