Tal Golesworthy, a British engineer from Tewkesbury, suffered from Marfan syndrome, an inherited condition that threatened to split his aortic root. After being told that he urgently needed a mechanical valve implant, he designed one that was better than the one already in use, custom tailored to his heart (as displayed on his MRIs) and used a rapid prototyper to refine the design. He received his implant in 2004, and 23 more people have had them implanted since.
'We realised fairly early that with RP we would not be able to produce the finished device, but that we should be able to produce a perfect 3D thermoplastic model of the aorta,' said Golesworthy. 'The challenge then was to find a way of producing what was almost always going to be a textile implant to fit this model.'
The team looked at a number of different processes, such as 3D embroidery, but ended up using a standard medical polymer, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in a textile solution that allowed them to form a mesh directly onto the former. The mesh weighed less than 5g, was an exact fit for the ascending aorta and could be sutured into place by the surgeon. The process, from proposal to final product, took just under two years.