Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Role Models

Silvia Schievano

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Dr Silvia Schievano

Awards: Sir George Macfarlane Award 2009


Biomedical engineer Dr Silvia Schievano has pioneered the development of patient-specific heart valves that can be implanted into the heart without surgery, triggering what cardiologists describe as a paradigm shift in how they approach the clinical challenges they meet in replacing pulmonary valves. In 2009, Dr Schievano won the Sir George MacFarlane Medal from the Academy for excellence in the early stage of an engineering career.

By integrating into the clinical research team, Dr Schievano has been able to develop an engineering group that, in collaboration with Industry, now leads the world in this area of research and testing, building a multidisciplinary working relationship between cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, imagers and engineers from academia and industry.

The technique of implanting a pulmonary valve into a patient's heart without surgery was devised by Cardiology Professor Philipp Bonhoeffer in 2000. This catheter-based, minimally-invasive approach soon became accepted into clinical practice, and over 3,000 patients have now benefited from the procedure worldwide. The procedure led on to catheter aortic valve implantation, which started in 2002 and has now been performed in thousands of patients.

Silvia joined the team during the early days of the pulmonary device development. Although the technique has been highly successful, the shape of the faulty outflow tract that the replacement valve has to fit into is different for each patient. Silvia has used engineering techniques like rapid prototyping and finite element analysis to model various designs of stents for use with the valves so that more people can benefit from minimally-invasive procedures. This approach allows real clinical data to shape a more patient-specific device, improves patient safety and reduces the need for animal experiments as new devices are introduced. One of these new designs was implanted for the first time in 2009 with great benefit to the patient, who had no alternatives.

Professor Bonhoeffer says: "From my clinical point of view, I think that Silvia, as an engineer, has had the courage to make a very unusual career choice that has been incredibly fruitful, as seen by her impressive achievements to date, but more importantly, by the real and positive impact her work has had on how we care for our patients. I believe her talents will continue to blossom, and that she will have a successful career in the field of biomedical engineering."

Silvia was awarded the George Macfarlane Award in 2009 in recognition of her engineering innovations in the development of pulmonary valves.

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