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. Dr Schievano has won this year’s Sir George MacFarlane Medal from the Academy for excellence in the early stage of an engineering career.

Dr Schievano is the RAEng/EPSRC Research Fellow at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. By integrating into the clinical research team she 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 800 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 earlier this year 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. She is a worthy recipient of the Sir George Macfarlane Award.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Sir George MacFarlane medal is awarded in memory of one of the Academy’s founding fellows, Sir George Macfarlane (1916 - 2007). The award recognises the potential of young UK engineers, who have demonstrated excellence in the early stage of their career (less than eight years since graduation from a first degree in engineering). This excellence is marked by a quality of leadership and/or technical and scientific attainment that is clearly seen to be outstanding by their employers and organisation. The award recognises this and enables them to attend an educational event at The Royal Academy of Engineering where they may have opportunity to meet other leading engineers and gain professional development skills.
  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636