Harvard Heart Letter

Building a better stent

Wire tubes that prop open arteries continue to be refined.

Small metal cylinders called stents have helped revolutionize the treatment of heart disease. In an angioplasty procedure, a narrowed or blocked artery is opened with a balloon. A stent is then inserted to hold the artery open—all without the trauma of open-heart surgery.

Despite the success of stenting—more than 500,000 stents are implanted every year—the devices aren't perfect. "There is no question that angioplasty with stents saves lives in certain cases, such as in people who are having a heart attack. However, we are still looking for the formula that, over the long run, will also guarantee that the artery will not become narrowed again by growing through the stent or attracting blood clots. Stents are moving closer to that ideal," says Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, chief of cardiology at the Harvard-affiliated VA Boston Healthcare System, "but the protection is not perfect yet."

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