New heart stents overcome problems of past

Published March 25, 2007

NEW ORLEANS - A new crop of experimental heart stents has passed some key safety and effectiveness tests and may one day offer alternatives to the controversial stents now used to keep unclogged arteries open, doctors reported Saturday.

One is designed to dissolve after doing its job, leaving nothing behind to trigger blood clots - a worry with the most popular stents sold now. Another attracts special cells to help the artery heal. A third is super-thin and uses a novel drug to keep scar tissue from reblocking the vessel.

All are seeking a slice of the $6-billion market for these tiny mesh scaffolds, which are placed in arteries during angioplasty, an artery-clearing procedure that more than a million Americans have each year.

Their popularity has faded with news that the drug-coated stents used in most of these procedures can raise the risk of blood clots many months later.

Much more study is needed, but doctors say a temporary stent that dissolves would be a welcome alternative to current stents, which are permanent, foreign metal objects that can interfere with imaging tests increasingly used in heart care.

"Technologies never stand still - they're constantly improving," said Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Yet key questions remain about the safety of all of the new devices. An expert panel led by Harvard cardiologist Dr. Eugene Braunwald is completing a report on what the federal agency's role should be in resolving the safety issues, Nabel said.