EU PROTECTS > Our Health > Keeping the beat: How the EU is healing hearts with cutting-edge treatments

“For the first time my heart beats normally. The operation has really given me a new horizon.”

Pieter Kappelhof

Pieter, aged 54, was born with a heart condition that caused a leak in one of his heart valves. Walking up stairs, running to the bus stop – even minimal exertion was exhausting. Just a few years ago, getting a new heart valve would have meant follow-up surgery or taking medication for the rest of his life. However, ground-breaking new research – funded by the EU – has enabled doctors to replace Pieter’s defective heart valve, allowing him to lead a healthy, active life. 

Learn more about Pieter’s story and the people working on a new approach to bring safer and more effective medical treatments to patients throughout the EU.

Keeping the beat: How the EU is healing hearts with cutting-edge treatments

Most of us take having a healthy heart for granted. But it’s a luxury for the many people suffering from heart diseases. Over the past 6 years, 2 EU-funded clinical trials have developed a longer-lasting human heart valve, which has already improved the lives of many patients throughout Europe.

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Prof Axel Haverich

Hannover Medical School

Germany

“While my own research into heart valve transplants began decades ago, with EU support my team tested a new technique. We started removing cells from donated human heart valves. We hoped that these ‘decellularised’ valves would be less likely to be rejected by the human immune system.”

“We set out to test a new heart valve transplant technique. We ended up making a significant discovery.”

 - Prof Axel Haverich

Dr Ramadan Jashari

European Homograft Bank

Belgium

“We prepare, evaluate, store and distribute human heart valves to hospitals throughout Belgium and other European countries. We work closely with the EU-supported medical teams studying a new transplant technique involving donated heart valves. Before they go to these teams, the valves are processed by tissue banks, like ours, and treated with new techniques by specialised labs like Corlife.”

“We evaluate the donated human heart valves used in the EU-funded projects.”

 - Dr Ramadan Jashari

Nicolin Heister

Corlife lab

Germany

“We receive donor hearts from tissue banks like the European Homograft Bank. We then remove the cells from the donated valves. This process must start within 100 hours from when the heart stops beating.”

“Under the EU-funded research programme, selected medical clinics are using our processed valves to test this new heart valve transplant.”

“When we receive a donated heart valve, we have very little time to start the decellularisation process.”

 - Nicolin Heister

Dr Marta Sitges

Hospital Clinic of Barcelona

Spain

“My clinic in Spain is part of a pan-European heart valve study, involving other cardiologists from the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Italy. Most patients are responding extremely positively.”

“With the new valve, they can avoid the complications typically associated with the valves we’ve used up to now.”

 

“I follow patients participating in the clinical trials to see how well the valve functions after surgery.”

 - Dr Marta Sitges

Pieter Kappelhof

The Netherlands

“I was born with a leakage in my aortic heart valve. Without a heart valve transplant, I was at risk of having an aneurism—when your heart breaks, so to speak, and then you die within a few minutes.”

“I received the new valve on 19 October 2017. And while there were some complications afterwards, I can now run and cycle as well as play football with my 2 boys.”

“Since the operation, I no longer feel limited by my heart.”

 - Pieter Kappelhof

 

Did you know?

65,000

The number of heart valve replacements carried out in Europe each year to treat acquired or congenital aortic valve disease.

A ‘cell free’ heart valve

Decellularised valves have been developed under the European clinical study for the application of regenerative heart valves (ESPOIR) and tested in the EU-funded ARISE project for aortic valve replacement. They are expected to lower the risk of transplant rejection, and perhaps last the patient’s lifetime.

2 EU-funded projects, 1 cross-border breakthrough

ESPOIR and ARISE have brought together researchers, cardiologists and surgeons from 7 European countries (Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Moldova).

260

The number of patients who have received the new (decellularised) valve under the clinical trial since 2012. Once clinical trials are completed, the new heart valve will become available EU-wide. This availability will depend on each country’s decision as well as national regulations.

99%

The percentage of patients with the new heart valve transplant that do not need replacement surgery. Their condition will be monitored closely over the next 10 years.

€7.7 billion

The amount of the EU’s research and innovation funding spent on Health, Demographic Change and Well-Being projects for 2014-2020. Besides heart valve transplants, these funds go to Hybrid Hearts, Active and Assisted Living, and more.

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