It has taken a lifetime, but an Australian scientist has invented a patch that could save children from repeated heart surgery.

The patch, made from highly processed cow heart membrane, has been used in Australia for about nine months and has just been approved for use in Europe.

Professor Leon Neethling started working on it decades ago in South Africa and brought the concept with him to Australia 15 years ago.

It can be used to close holes in the heart and repair heart valves and blood vessels.

Heart valve surgery is notorious for needing repeat operations, but Prof Neethling says that's not necessary with his patch.

One of the main benefits is that the patient's own cells populate the tissue. "It becomes part of the patient's body."

This means it does not harden or degenerate like other products.

"You can use it for several purposes in various parts of the heart and lungs," says Prof Neethling.

He says he has spent most of his career working on the invention, which is owned by ASX-listed Allied Healthcare Group and is marketed under the brand name CardioCel.

The biggest concerns when implanting a biological product into a human are rejection, calcification and durability, Prof Neethling says.

"CardioCel is extremely durable and extremely biocompatible.

"We are not changing the way surgery is being done, but we may change the outcome for the patient.

"It is absolutely a highlight of my life. I am 56-years-old and I have spent my working life creating this.

"The biggest reward is when they use it in babies."

The product is approved for assessment in Australia and doctors are happy with it so far.

"It will be an important step forward if it works out to do what we hope it will do," says Professor Tom Karl, of the Mater Children's Hospital in Brisbane.

 

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