Albert Starr (1926-)
First surgical valve replacement with a mechanical ball cage valve (1962)
More than 55 years ago, Lowell Edwards (electrical engineer and inventor) possessed 63 patents. As a teenager, he had two bouts of rheumatic fever which sparked his interest and captivation in fixing heart problems. He was obsessed with the idea of mechanizing blood flow through the heart and enlisted the help of Dr. Albert Starr, a young surgeon at Oregon Health Sciences university. It took the two men only two years to design, develop, test and successfully implant the first Starr-Edwards Silastic® ball valve.
The first prototype consisted of two silicone rubber flaps, or leaflets, that hung on a central solid Teflon crossbar. A 'sewing ring' encircled the device, allowing it to be stitched into the heart and held in place. Dr. Starr first used this device to replace the mitral valve in dogs. However, the lethal clot formations led them to pursue a free-floating ball inside a cage design instead. As pressure built up outside the device, the ball would be pushed away from the orifice, allowing fluid to flow. With the subsequent drop in pressure, the ball would move back and re-seal the opening. With a few more rounds of device iterations, they were successful in replacing the valves in dogs.
On September 21, 1962, a 52-year-old farmer became the first human patient to receive this valve, which was used to replace his mitral valve. He continued to enjoy a healthy and productive life until his death from an unrelated cause—falling from a ladder—a decade later.
Dr. Albert Starr received the Lasker Award in 2007, along with Alain Carpentier. He also received France’s Grand Prix Scientifique Award 2015 in Paris in recognition of research that led to the world’s first successful artificial mitral valve implant in 1960.