CryoLife keeps the beat going for heart transplants

Kelly Dawson
March 7, 2018
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.CryoLife is part of our Healthy Living portfolio.

  • About 3,500 transplants take place each year
  • Since its acquisition of On-X Life Technologies, CryoLife has also become a leader in artificial heart valves
  • Donate Life America estimates that 22 people die each day waiting for a organ donor

It’s no secret that we’re experiencing an extended period of impressive advancements in medicine. Health has improved significantly throughout the world, and average life expectancies have risen worldwide by a little more than six years, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. On a large scale, this is all exciting stuff: widespread diseases like AIDS have declined, people with disabilities are living longer, and more newborns are expected to see their childhoods. It all has to do with increased communication and education, of course, but technology also plays a big role. After all, just consider the impact heart transplants have had on the world’s population in the last few decades.

The first heart transplant took place in 1967, and since then, great strides in drugs, tissue typing, and procedures have been made so that about 3,500 transplants take place each year. The vast majority of those transplants are performed in American hospitals, at about 2,000 annual surgeries, and about 85 percent of those who receive a transplant are alive a year later.

It’s a breathtaking feat, and CryoLife is at its helm. For more than 30 years, this biomedical company has focused on preserving human heart valves used in cardiac reconstruction. This process is decidedly complex, and to make it even more detailed, CryoLife specifically deals with child patients, although adult operations are done too. The work includes surgeries that repair veins, arteries, and the full heart with groundbreaking technologies in the biomedical field, where research is continuing to find and build prototypes and outline procedures that extend the lives of those in need.

It’s estimated that more than one million patients have benefited from CryoLife’s products and tissues throughout the world — and the company is working to fulfill even more chances at a renewed life with help from more research and donors. Through new global acquisitions and multi-million dollar quarterly revenues, it is well on its way.

The heart of the matter

The ins-and-outs of heart surgery can get understandably complicated, and the list of offerings under CryoLife’s umbrella is no different. So let’s take it slow. CryoLife creates and distributes living human tissues that can be implanted by cardiac and vascular operations. These products include items like BioGlue Surgical Adhesive, which is an alternative to sutures and staples for adult organs, and Photofix Decellularized Bovine Pericardium, a biocompatible tissue substitute. We can list more, but judging by those two titles alone, you get the idea that they’re all a med-degree mouthful.

Here are some fast facts about CryoLife that are easier to digest: The company is registered under the FDA, and it’s certified under international quality standards to manufacture and implement its products around the globe. From a beginning that only included six employees, it has grown to encompass more than 600 personnel, outposts in 85 countries, and a 21-acre headquarters outside Atlanta. And since its acquisition of On-X Life Technologies Holdings, Inc. in 2016, CryoLife has also become a leader in artificial heart valves, too.

But how does it all work exactly?

Well, it starts with donors and their families, which was the case for the very first transplant 50 years ago. CryoLife partners with organ and tissue procurement organizations that recover and send viable tissues to the company from dozens of donor sites throughout the country. Donors include the Donor Network of Arizona in Phoenix and the Donor Alliance in Denver, as well as the New England Donor Services in Massachusetts and Lifeline of Ohio Organ Procurement in Columbus, to name a few. The tissues are put through a process called “cryopreservation,” where in-depth research determines if and how they can be used in surgeries.

So far, the majority of cardiovascular surgeries in America where allograft tissues are used — that’s the term for transplants from one person to another — are done with cryopreserved heart valves that have gone through the CryoLife process. In all, the tissues of 100,000 donors have been processed. That means that those donors have helped save the lives of those aforementioned million people.

And while that’s impressive, the need is still there.

The beat goes on

According to CryoLife, more than 128,000 people are currently on lists in need of transplants. That is, of course, much more than the few thousand surgeries that take place each year. However, the silver lining is that one donor does not equal one life saved. One donor has the opportunity to save as much as 50 lives with their tissues, making the sacrifice a literal rebirth for another human.

It’s probably taken a few minutes to read this post, and by the time 10 minutes is up, another person will be added to that in-need list. In fact, Donate Life America estimates that 22 people die each day waiting for a donor. And that’s not all — while we’re focused on hearts with this story, other organs like eyes can also be donated. That brings the life-saving potential of one person to up to 75 others. All it takes to potentially save a life is to sign up with Donate Life America.

CryoLife is committed to the lives in need by continued outreach to possible donors and research to make sure that those donated tissues are used in the best ways possible. It also wants to continue to grow its operations worldwide, including last year’s developments in China, which will allow it to reach even more people who need these operations. It’s also doing long-term studies, at the FDA’s request, of its On-X aortic heart valve and other clinical trials of other groundbreaking surgical items.

The hope is to continue to push the world’s life expectancy rate even further, while also working to make those longer lives fulfilling. Only the future will show what happens next, but from CryoLife’s view, it looks bright.

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