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August marks 50th anniversary of landmark heart valve surgery

Starr-Edwards acrylic valveFifty years ago this month, a groundbreaking heart surgery occurred at the University of Oregon Medical School, the predecessor to OHSU. The valve, developed by Albert Starr, MD and M. Lowell Edwards, BS, a retired engineer, consisted of a Silastic ball surrounded by an acrylic cage which was attached to the patient’s tissue. This design – the result of three years of concentrated research and development – led the way for modern valve replacement surgery.

“The work of Dr. Starr and Lowell Edwards set an early template for OHSU’s missions of translational research, education and patient care,” said Mark Richardson, MD, MBA, Dean, School of Medicine. “Our faculty members, researchers and clinicians still go about their work with an ambitious spirit to advance modern health care.”

Eight artificial heart valve surgeries took place in the two years following the initial August 1960 surgery. The results were mostly positive, and Dr. Starr and Edwards published a paper, “Mitral replacement: clinical experience with a ball-valve prosthesis,” in the October 1961 edition of Annals of Surgery, which became a classic in the medical literature.

“Heart valve surgery was monumental in its significance for the future of cardiology,” said Sanjiv Kaul, MD, Professor, Department of Medicine and Chief, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. “It gave patients and physicians an option for the first time to treat valvular heart disease. This pioneering research was recognized world wide and resulted in Dr. Starr receiving the DeBakey Lasker Award two years ago.”

Pictured: The Starr-Edwards acrylic valve, first implanted in a human in August 1960

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