New heart stent dissolves when its no longer needed

A disappearing act inside the heart: A new device props open a blocked artery, then dissolves away. It’s the latest innovation in treating heart disease, and doctors here in Chicago are putting it to the test.

Think of it like construction scaffolding — put up to help workers on a job, then taken down when the task is complete. That’s how ABSORB works – the first heart stent that dissolves once it’s no longer needed.

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“If the stent’s doing its job why would I want it to dissolve away? In a very small percentage of people, that existing metal scaffold that remains in the artery can potentially cause problems in the form of blood clots. If it does it could cause a heart attack.” said Dr. Mark Ricciardi, Northwestern Memorial Interventional Cardiologist.

It’s rare – a risk that impacts less than 1 percent of patients — but it’s a possibility doctors would like to take off the table.

“The process of re-narrowing after a blockage is treated really starts within days of the artery being addressed with a stent, and once that process is inhibited after a few weeks or months it, in all likelihood, won’t re-narrow,” Ricciardi said.

Made of the same material used in dissolving sutures, ABSORB delivers a medication that inhibits the formation of scar tissue in the repaired vessel – just as a metal drug-eluting stent would. But after several months, it begins to dissolve. Within a few years – it’s gone.

“The lack of having that metal left behind gets rid of a reason for the artery to say, ‘I want to clot off now because I have a foreign body in me,'” Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi is testing the device in selected patients as part of a clinical trial.

“The typical patient has some symptoms that brought them to us in the first place,” Ricciardi said. “They have a positive stress test. People who have angina, chest discomfort, and a stress test and they would otherwise need stenting, and that’s when we’ll decide if they are a candidate.”

Reynaldo Velez was one of them. A security guard at a hotel just blocks from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, he arrived at work one day in September feeling far from normal.

“As I got out of my car I broke out in a sweat,” Velez said, adding he had a tingling in his hands.

Tests showed a blockage. He underwent angioplasty and received the new dissolving stent.

“He told me I was the first in the city to receive it. I’m feeling great, starting to run a bit, swim. Little by little, you’ll get back on your feet,” Velez said.

To learn more about the ABSORB III trial, please call the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) at 312-926-0840 or email kjordan@nmh.org<mailto:kjordan@nmh.org.

For more information on Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, visit www.heart.nmh.org<http://www.heart.nmh.org/. To schedule an appointment, please call 312-NM-HEART (664-3278).

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