Yesterday I attended a fascinating lecture by James L. Cox, MD on prosthetic heart valve design at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. However, there was one thing about the lecture that struck me as odd—yet consonant with the times. Dr. Cox (who retired from clinical practice) expurgated the names of the private ventures with which he is involved from his slides. For example, in a photograph of the headquarters of one venture the firm’s name on the building was blacked out.
I found that silly. There is nothing wrong with profiting from products that prove useful to others. Plus, there are better ways to allay fears that a presentation is merely a disguised sales pitch. First, provide useful and accurate background information. Second, describe what you feel are your product’s strengths and what competitors and critics say are its weaknesses. Third, trust your audience’s natural skepticism and deal with it directly and honestly.
The main thrust of the presentation was that form should follow function. While some artificial heart valves mimic the appearance of natural heart valves, it’s more important that they mimic the performance of natural valves. Dr. Cox (also known for developing the Cox maze procedure for treating atrial fibrillation) explained that that requires looking not only at basic valve function but factors such as turbulence, stresses on adjoining tissue, and so forth. His company, ATS Medical, offers both mechanical and biological valves.
One of the most interesting ideas discussed was percutaneous valve replacement—deploying a replacement heart valve using catheters. The valve is contained in a stent which, once in position, is expanded to push the natural valve leaflets aside. This isn’t a totally new concept—nor is it in widespread use. The “form follows function” design approach can be beneficial here, as well.