Health Watch -- Keeping Arteries Open

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A new kind of device may be what's needed to keep arteries open while avoiding complications.

When arteries leading to the heart become blocked, doctors often resort to stents, metal tubes that open arteries and keep them open. Stents are also used to deliver drugs or gene therapy to affected areas. But stents cause their own complications, including blood clots and impaired vessel growth.

Now a researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas has worked with his colleagues to develop a stent that will dissolve into the body when its work is done. The stent is deployed and expanded in the same way a metal stent is and supports the artery, but it's made of a material that dissolves when it has done its job.

One area where this research can be particularly helpful is in helping children who are born with blocked arteries. Metal stents are often used to open these blockages, but then the children outgrow the stents, creating problems. The dissolving stents, on the other hand, will go away before the child outgrows them.

These stents are also less invasive than metal stents, and Dr. Robert Eberhart, the UT Southwestern surgeon who helped invent them, says he believes his stents will be as effective as traditional stents, but safer and easier.

The new stents also can be loaded with anti-inflammatory drugs or microspheres for gene or drug therapy.