UW Medicine is researching a non-invasive technique for replacing faulty heart valves that could help patients avoid open heart surgery.

It's called the Transcatheter Aortic Valve (TAVR).

The aortic valve is the exit door to the heart and, in some people, it can stiffen leading to a potentially fatal heart attack. Fixing this condition requires replacement of the valve which is typically done through open-heart surgery.

"Over and over again what I have suggested is that a minimally invasive approach to replacing the aortic valve is at least as good as if not better than open heart surgery," said Dr. James McCabe, Medical Director of the Cardiac Cath Lab at the University of Washington Medical Center.

The alternative, TAVR, uses a catheter-based approach where surgeons put a small incision in the femoral artery and insert a small tube. The artificial valve is then compressed into the tube and passed through the body to be placed in the heart.

"The reason this trial exists at all is because we want to follow people for a while to make sure that these valves are durable that they last as long as we expect them to," said Dr. McCabe.

The TAVR procedure is also done within a short amount of time and requires relatively little downtime.

"The minimally invasive approach these days has been done enough at least at the center that we tend to be able to do it within a 20 to 25-minute procedure people are sedated but awake. No breathing tube and so forth. Then they have to lay in bed for four hours, after that they can get up and walk around if they're feeling well. They typically go home the next morning. We have not sent people home the same day, but we are almost headed that way," Dr. McCabe said.

The TAVR technology has been around for a decade but has only been available to those who are basically too sick to undergo open-heart surgery. This new study is now looking at how lower risk patients would benefit.

UW researchers are seeking more patients for the trial. There are several factors needed to qualify, and you have a 50-50 chance of getting the TAVR or open heart surgery.