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Mitral valve of a pig for human use, United States, 1976-1979

The mitral valve is in the heart and in some cases may need to be replaced because of narrowing – which prevents blood flow – or as a result of disease. The practice of replacing damaged or diseased mitral valves with those from pig hearts began in the 1970s and continues today – the pig heart has a very similar structure to the human heart. The valve has to be chemically treated before it can be implanted. Despite this, it may still be rejected. It is a controversial treatment as pigs have to die in order for us to harvest the valves.

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Glossary: mitral valve

a valve in the heart consisting of two cusps attached to the walls at the opening between the left atrium and left ventricle. It allows blood to pass from the atrium to the ventricle, but prevents any backward flow.

Glossary: prostheses

Artificial body parts, or materials inserted into tissue for functional, cosmetic, or therapeutic effect. Prostheses can be functional (artificial arms and legs), or cosmetic (artificial eye).

Glossary: artificial heart valve

A device implanted into patients who have suffered a malfunction of their heart valves. (The heart valves restrict the flow of blood to one direction.)