FDA approves first absorbable stent

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During a procedure to restore blood flow to the heart (angioplasty), doctors nearly always insert a wire-mesh tube called a stent to hold the artery open. In July, the FDA approved the first stent made of a biodegradable substance that is believed to fully dissolve in about three years.

Like a traditional drug-eluting metal stent, the new absorbable stent temporarily releases a drug that helps prevent scarring inside the newly opened artery. In a trial of 2,008 people that compared the absorbable stent with a drug-eluting metal one, rates of heart attacks and other serious heart-related events were roughly the same in both groups after one year. But the risk of blood clot formation was about twice as likely inside the absorbable stent (1.5%) compared with the metal stent (0.74%).

Patients aren't normally offered a choice of which type of stent they receive, as doctors typically make that decision. Cost may be a factor, as new products are usually more expensive than older ones. For now, many experts believe it is best to wait until more long-term results are available before routinely using an absorbable stent.

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