Surgeons at John Muir Medical Center in Concord are implanting patients with a new kind of stent as part of a clinical trial.
The difference is this device not only opens blocked arteries, it also disappears when the job is done.
East Bay golfer Jeff Early can certainly read a green when the pressure's on.
But several months ago, a different kind of reading threatened both his golf game and his health.
"I've had friends, having stents or bypasses or heart attacks and I kind of wondered when my turn was going to come up," Early said.
Doctors at John Muir Medical Center in Concord diagnosed a narrowing in one of Early's coronary arteries.
The condition was severe enough that doctors recommended placing a stent.
The mesh tubes have been available to open blocked blood vessels for several decades. But a new type, currently in clinical trials at John Muir includes a key difference.
"This is truly the most exciting area right now in interventional cardiology and this is the first in class of these fully bio-absorbable drug-eluting stents," Gary Gershony, M.D., said.
Gershony says the device known as the Absorb is placed in the artery with a balloon catheter in the same way as a common metal stent. Its coating can deliver an imbedded drug to initiate the healing. But unlike metal stents, the Absorb is designed to dissolve away over the course of several years, leaving nothing in the body.
"We really only have a limited amount of real estate in our heart arteries and at some point, we don't want to be placing stent upon stent if we don't have to," Gershony said.
We first profiled the Absorb in 2010 when it was still in development at Abbott. Since then, it's undergone clinical trials in Europe and Japan.
Gershony believes approval in the US would represent an evolution in cardiac care.
"And that would be not leaving a permanent metallic scaffold inside of an artery," Gershony said.
Since the trial is blinded, Early has not been told yet whether he received the Absorb or a standard stent.
He does know that the procedure has left him with the energy to pursue his passion.
"I can play 36 holes a day instead of 18 now. Maybe walk a few too," Early said.
The developers say the engineering behind the Abbot stent has taken several decades to perfect. One of the key challenges was allowing it to be biodegradable, while ensuring there is no flaking or breakage during that process.