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Every year 70,000 people worldwide are denied life-saving open heart surgery, because of a condition called mitral regurgitation, a disorder of the heart in which the mitral valve does not close properly when the heart pumps out blood.

The mitral valve acts as the heart’s gatekeeper. It regulates the flow of blood between the two chambers of the left side of the heart. When the valve’s two leaflets fail to close completely, blood regurgitates into the left atrium (hence the condition’s name), decreasing blood flow to the rest of the body. To compensate, the heart pumps harder, an action that may eventually lead to heart failure.

Israeli company MitrAssist is working on an implant which would be placed on top of the native valve and then anchored securely to work in unison with the body’s own valve. “Our ‘valve-in-valve’ approach is designed to prevent leakage and restore normal blood flow,” According to MitrAssist CEO, Gil Naor. “Our valve works with the body rather than against it.”

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