From paddock to patient – lifesaving heart valves made from Australian cows

15 October 2021

Global heart valve manufacturer Edwards Lifesciences has been making life-saving heart valves using bovine tissue from Australian cows. The US company has imported more than 100,000 batches of the tissue on flights from Australia since early 2020.

Sourced from approximately 20 farms in Queensland, batches of bovine tissue are flown from Brisbane to Los Angeles before being processed to make heart valves in Irvine, California. The heart valves are then distributed to patients in more than 100 countries around the world.

Made from pericardium tissue - the sac that sits around a cow’s heart - the thin but durable tissue is a key part of the transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) that is used in the treatment of aortic stenosis.

Aortic stenosis is a condition where the opening of the aortic valve narrows due to built-up calcium. It restricts blood flow and can cause fainting, chest pain and shortness of breath.

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IFAM flights play crucial role

The majority of Edwards Lifesciences’ global supply of bovine tissue comes from Australia.

The Australian Government’s International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) has played an important role in ensuring the tissue reaches the company’s California production facility before its 96-hour expiry period.

Edwards Lifesciences Managing Director for ANZ and Korea, Pat Williams said the company had airfreighted Australian bovine tissue using IFAM flights since April 2020.

“The IFAM flights helped keep the supply chain of our tissue between Australia and the US open during what has been a challenging time due to border restrictions caused by the pandemic,” Mr Williams said.  

“We have been able to continue sending bovine tissue from Brisbane to Irvine, where they are manufactured into life-saving heart valves and sent to patients all over the world.”

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Assistance mechanism extended

The Australian Government set up IFAM as a temporary, targeted, emergency response to pandemic disruptions to keep global air links open in response to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan said the Government was providing an additional $260.9 million to extend IFAM until mid-2022.

Minister Tehan said the program was critical to maintaining air connectivity in and out of the country.

“IFAM was introduced to help rebuild and maintain global air supply chains in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions,” Minister Tehan said.

“Not only has the program helped maintain supply chains for our farmers and fishers, but also assisted with the export and import of vital medical supplies that save lives.”