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DR. ALBERT STARR

Dr Albert Starr’s research led to the world’s first successful artificial mitral Valve implant in 1960

When Dr Albert Starr collected the 2015 Institut de France Grand Prize Scientifique earlier this year it capped a stellar career that saved millions of lives and pushed the frontiers of medicine and engineering.

His story is one of imagination and constant innovation that captures the essence of what medical technology is all about. He helped to create technologies – and indeed an entire field – which simply did not exist before his journey began.

In 1958, Dr Starr, a cardiac surgeon, met Miles ‘Lowell’ Edwards, a recently retired engineer who had become fascinated with the hydraulics of the circulatory system. Together, they produced the ‘Starr-Edwards Silastic Ball’, which they would refine over the decades that were to follow.

They had to design prototypes, try out different materials and develop surgical techniques for implanting the valve. Then, Dr Starr and Edwards took to the road. They were doing demonstrations around the US, training surgeons and showcasing their new technology.

All the while they and others were developing other artificial heart valves. The field was exploding.

Looking back, the impact that Dr Starr and Edwards had was profound. Looking ahead, the future waves of innovation can take inspiration from this marriage of engineering and medicine; the quest for perfection; and the belief in human ingenuity.