Incredible Textile Tech that Repairs Hearts

One in one hundred children worldwide is born with some kind of heart defect or disease. One common problem in particular, a hole in the heart, has traditionally required major surgery. But cardiologist Franz Freudenthal has spent years developing a textile technology device that mends the hole without surgery. The device itself, “beweave it” or not, is born from traditional Bolivian loom weaving!

Called an “occluder,” the device is approximately the shape of a top hat, and it plugs the hole. So far, this device has saved hundreds of lives. Dr. Freudenthal currently treats patients at his clinic in La Paz, Bolivia. Because of the high altitude there, holes in hearts tend to be larger and more life-threatening, so before this device was invented, many patients died before they could be treated.

The occluder is woven from a smart material, nitinol (a nickel-titanium alloy). The device memorizes its final shape, is folded up into a slim catheter, inserted into a blood vessel which it uses as a pathway to the heart, and then expands when it reaches the hole in the heart. Because it’s woven from all one piece, the device never rusts. That means it never needs to be replaced.

These occluders are too small and intricate to mass-produce, so they’re woven by hand by indigenous Aymara women. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, so locally-produced, affordable medical devices that also create jobs are a real boon there. I always love learning about new ways that weaving is bringing hope to communities, and Dr. Freudenthal’s textile technology work is a wonderful example.

Check out his TED Talk to learn more!