Stent choice leads cardiac researchers to contrast angioplasty devices’ benefits

By Emily Sokolik

For those suffering from years of poor diets, inactivity and high cholesterol, medical procedures to correct ailing heart conditions are growing in popularity. A wire mesh device used to keep clogged arteries open after undergoing an angioplasty, known as a stent, is at the center of debate for cardiac researchers.

Stents are used in almost all angioplasty procedures but exactly what kind of stent to use has been the source of controversy in the field, said John Kao, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Two kinds of stents are currently available: bare metal and drug-coated. In the past, bare-metal stents were the only devices available for patients, but since 2003, drug-coated stents have exploded with popularity.

Bare-metal stents stimulate the production of scar tissue, which can lead to reoccurring symptoms. Cardiologists welcomed the drug-coated stents for their ability to stave off restenosis or re-clogging of the arteries.

“The drug-coated stents came out on a Friday and by Monday, we had already used them on two patients,” said Reynaldo Tirona, cardiologist at Provena Covenant Medical Center, 1400 W. Park St., in Urbana.

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Drug-coated stents are used over bare metal about eighty percent of the time, Tirona said.

An American Heart Association meeting held in Chicago two weeks ago announced the findings of a one-year research study, in which drug-coated stents were discovered to be helpful in restoring blood flow to the lower legs in patients with clogged vessels.

“We have placed (drug-coated) stents in several other patients, but we haven’t followed them long enough to determine the outcome,” said Arthur Grant, cardiologist and the study’s lead author in the association’s meeting report. “Even though only a few patients have been treated, the results are really encouraging.”

However, the drug-coated devices do come with potential risks as well. While bare-metal stents increase the risk for re-clotting, the drug-coated devices are reported to cause blood clots months after installment.

“In exchange for reducing the risk of re-narrowing, we could be taking a higher chance of clotting,” Tirona said.

Patients with the drug-coated stents are advised to take anti-platelet therapy like Plavix to reduce the risk of blood clots. But Kao said Plavix is not readily available to all patients since the pill costs $4 a day. Many low-income patients either finish taking the medication prematurely or never take the medication at all, he said.

Kao is optimistic that the debate over stents may soon become a thing of the past. Small trials are currently underway to determine the feasibility of biodegradable stents, capable of dissolving in the body.

“The patient is then left with a healthy artery,” he said. “This appears to be promising technology.”