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|Tuesday, April 01, 2008|
Tiny, stainless steel lattice tubes have been propping coronary arteries open since the 1980s, but never without triggering reactions in some patients that are worse than untreated heart disease. In 2001, scientists began coating stents with drugs to help prevent heart attack-inducing blood clots. But 30,000 out of the 6 million patients worldwide who receive them still die. “Metal is inherently not biocompatible,” says Dr. Kenton Gregory, director of Oregon Medical Laser Center at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland. More than a decade ago, Gregory decided he needed to go back to nature if stent technology was to move forward. Gregory, whose work at the center has received 22 patents and $25 million in grants, developed a coating modeled after the artery wall’s own lining: a protein called elastin. As the name suggests, the protein stretches without breaking and molds well to any object it coats, even metal tubes 1.5 mm in diameter and 12 mm in length. Most importantly, the body won’t reject it. Gregory and his team at OMLC completed tests on domestic pigs last fall with “extremely successful” results and plan to start human trials in Brazil later this year. Once the design gets FDA approval — Gregory expects within two years — he’ll begin marketing the new device in hopes that this “metal, human-protein hybrid” will succeed where lesser stents have failed. Lives saved by listening to nature. EVAN CAEL
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