WARF seeking partners to develop new medical valve system

Researchers at UW-Madison have developed a new valve system to help people with hydrocephalus, a disorder that causes the body to produce too much brain and spinal fluid.

Cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, is a clear liquid located in the brain and spinal cord that acts like a cushion for the brain, absorbing otherwise harmful impacts. It also helps protect the brain from diseases, and plays a role in regulating blood flow to the brain.

Because patients with hydrocephalus produce too much CSF, their body is unable to handle the excess fluid. That can lead to an increase in pressure in the skull, which in turn leads to serious health problems including seizures and death.

Congenital hydrocephalus affects 1 in every 1,000 people, according to the national Hydrocephalus Association. It’s just as common as Down’s Syndrome, and it’s the most common reason for children to have brain surgery, the group says.

According to an info sheet from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, current treatments for the condition use flexible tubes to shunt excess fluid into other parts of the body, where it can be reabsorbed. One problem with that method is known as slit ventricle syndrome, in which the system that produces cerebrospinal fluid becomes overly drained.

In those cases, pressure around the brain is too low, leading to other issues such as headaches and hemorrhage.

Ultimately, slit ventricle syndrome can lead to pressure around the brain varying widely, internal obstructions and problems with the shunting system.

In hopes of helping patients avoid slit ventricle syndrome, researchers at UW-Madison have created a system which allows for drainage of CSF without over-draining.

Using pulses from the body’s own cardiac system, the system transmits a wave of pressure that can force open an internal valve, allowing some CSF through with each wave.

WARF is seeking commercial partners to develop this system. The design includes tubing going from the ventricular system — where CSF is produced — into a valve system with two arms. One of those arms flows forward and out of the tubing, while the other flows back into the valve system.

Using specific pressure differentials, the system regulates the amount of CSF within the body, accounting for pulsing of the heart as well as the effect of gravity.

The listed inventors are David Hsu, an associate professor of neurology; and Bermans Iskandar, a professor of neurological surgery and director of the UW-Madison pediatric neurosurgery program.