Studies of the pathology of explanted clinical and experimental valve specimens were done to determine the role of biomaterials in the failure of heart valve prostheses. From 7/80 through 12/84, 129 patients had valve prostheses removed at our hospital. Thrombosis/thromboembolism was the most frequent cause of the 39 mechanical valve failures (23%). Structural failure (poor durability) caused 12%. In contrast, with tissue-derived bioprostheses (90 patients), primary tissue degenerative failure was frequent (70%), and was usually associated with calcification (CALC). Infection caused 19% of all valve failures with a frequency not differing among valve types. Other causes of failure were not biomaterials-related. Thus, although frank materials degradation necessitates only a minority of mechanical valve removals, the suboptimal biologic properties of contemporary heart valve biomaterials contribute to some frequent complications (such as thrombosis/thromboembolism). Furthermore, degeneration due to mineralization is the overwhelming mode of failure of bioprosthetic valves.
To understand and potentially eliminate bioprosthetic valve CALC, the kinetics, morphology and host and implant determinants of this process were studied using subcutaneous implants in rats. In this model, in which the pathologic features were similar to those of actual experimental and clinical valve replacements, CALC of glutaraldehyde-treated porcine aortic valve and bovine pericardium began within 48 hours following implantation; mineral levels were comparable to those in failed clinical valves after 84–126 days. Calcific deposits were initially associated with connective tissue cells, but later involved collagen. Systemically-administered ethane-hydroxy-diphosphonate (EHDP), a drug used to treat some forms of metabolic bone disease, inhibited CALC by 97%, but caused significant bone growth retardation. However, EHDP given by site-specific controlled-release largely mitigated CALC at only 1% of the total effective systemic dose, but without adverse effects.