Device may make heart patients more active

October 20, 2009 7:13:39 PM PDT
A Bay Area company is testing a new device that could give heart patients the ability to be much more active. It's a type of stent, commonly used to hold open blocked arteries, but with a key difference.

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Just being able to stroll alongside his wife is a victory for John Lamb. Three years ago, he could barely make it to the mailbox near his rural home in New Zealand.

"It progressed from that point to getting strong chest pains, like somebody was ripping an area in my chest," said Lamb.

After being diagnosed with angina and a narrowing of his coronary arteries, he was offered the chance to become first patient in the world to receive an experimental, biodegradable stent.

"It sounded like a good idea to me that I wouldn't have a piece of metal left in my body," said Lamb.

The stent is being developed by Abbott Vascular in Santa Clara. The tube shaped device is surgically implanted like a normal stent, to reopen and support the walls of a blocked blood vessel and it's designed to avoid a critical drawback of the typical metal versions.

"In the natural state, the body would like to allow that vessel to dilate and contract in response to exercise, your body needs more blood flow when you exercise. When you have a metal stent, that vessel can't dilate,that vessel can no longer move," said Dr. James Oberhauser from Abbott Vascular.

That's because the interior wall of the blood vessel often grows into the mesh of the rigid stent.

But the biodegradable version reacts to chemicals in the patient's blood, and once the vessel heals, the stent starts dissolving over the course of several years allowing the blood vessel to regain its natural flexibility.

"So when you exercise it would presumably return to that higher blood flow that is needed to oxygenate the tissue," said Dr. Oberhauser.

He says studies with regular stents have shown that most blood vessels stabilize after three to four months.

John, who received the stent three years ago, now has just two tiny metallic markers left behind in his otherwise normal artery.

"I feel absolutely great, within a couple of days of having the surgery, I could walk to the mailbox, with no problems whatsoever," said Lamb.

Abbott is in phase two clinical trials, which are being conducted overseas, so a commercial version of the absorbable stent is still at best several years away.

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