James Gammie is the inventor of the Harpoon TSD-5. I called him to find out more...
What does this device do?
'The harpoon is designed to fix the heart without open heart surgery for those who have mitral valve disease. The disease is caused when the two flaps of the valve don't close properly, letting blood flow backwards. This makes the heart sick and causes problems for the patient.'
How does the device work?
'The mitral valve naturally has strings to help it close properly, but sometimes these get damaged. Our device inserts stitches to replace these damaged strings. The stitches are anchored onto the valve, pulled to the right length and tied off on the outside of the heart, all while it's still beating.'
Why did you choose the name Harpoon?
'The name is based on whaling harpoons, because those used a sharp object to anchor a rope onto a whale. We thought this was appropriate as our device anchors a stitch onto the valve using a small sharp needle. Ours is a lot more delicate than a normal harpoon!'
What inspired you to start this project?
'Ten years ago I was working at my medical practice and performed 225 mitral valve surgeries a year. I started to wonder if the operation could be more efficient and done through the wall of the heart. This was adapted from other operating procedures at the time.'
Is this technique potentially safer?
'Generally, mitral valve surgery is safe and effective but there are still risks. Our procedure will hopefully prove to lower these risks. We already know from clinical trials that the patients bleed less and have less need for blood transfusions. It's also a much quicker operation.'
What are the next steps?
'The goal of current trials is to collect enough clinical evidence to get approval for use of the harpoon in Europe. Once we get that approval we hope that these will be used all across Europe. We'd also want to start clinical trials in America in the near future.'