Scientists have developed a device which they say could help patients who would otherwise need heart surgery.
The clip could mean heart patients do not need surgery
Researchers told the American Cardiology Conference a tiny metal clip could help patients with a faulty heart valve.
Patients currently have invasive surgery to replace the valve, so their heart can work properly.
But the researchers said the clip, fed to the heart via a vein, repaired the valve so patients did not need surgery.
Heart works harder
Doctors in the US have so far used the clip to treat 10 patients with mitral regurgitation, where the mitral valve, which regulates the flow of blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle, has failed.
If the valve is not working as it should, blood leaks backwards into the heart as it beats - a condition known as mitral regurgitation.
The heart then has to work harder to try to pump blood through normally.
All the patients had moderate or severe mitral regurgitation which caused them fatigue, chest pain or shortness of breath, or they had a weakened heart muscle.
The tiny metallic clip is inserted through the skin into vein in the thigh inside a catheter, while the patient is under a general anaesthetic.
Doctors then guide the clip to the affected area of the heart.
It is then precisely steered into place, and attached to the mitral valve, helping it to close properly.
Once the clip is securely attached, the catheter is removed.
Dr Ted Feldman, of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, Illinois, said: "We have used the clip in 10 patients without complications during the procedure.
"Prior to the catheter procedure all 10 patients had mitral regurgitation serious enough to require surgery."
He added: "The majority of the patients treated with the device had their mitral regurgitation significantly reduced so as to no longer need surgery.
"The patients who did not receive optimal MR control with the clip were able to have routine, successful mitral valve surgery as previously indicated."
Dr Feldman added: "This new clip is one of the interventional cardiology devices in the pipeline that will change the face of cardiology in the coming years.
"We are beginning to see an array of devices that are intended to repair or replace malfunctioning structures of the heart without surgical intervention. Recovery times will be reduced from weeks to just days."
Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation, said other scientists had been attempting to develop non-invasive ways of treating patients with valve failure.
She said: "These treatments have proved successful in treating some cases, although replacement of the valve using open heart surgery is still necessary for a large number of patients."
She added: "Recent studies suggest that using a clip may be an improvement on existing methods of mitral valve repair.
"We welcome this research as a potential alternative option for the cardiologist."
But she added: "Such treatment needs to be carefully monitored in controlled studies to determine which patients would most benefit and to establish the long-term effects on the valve's function."