A special 'plug' that catches blood clots before they have a chance to reach the brain could help reduce the risk of stroke.
Abnormal heart rhythms are linked to stroke
The device is implanted in the heart of patients who
have a condition called atrial fibrillation - abnormal
heart rhythms that dramatically increase the risk of
Doctors attach the acorn-shaped gadget to the part of
the heart where clots often originate, where it seals off
the route to the brain.
Researchers who have been testing the device said it
could offer hoper to the many atrial fibrillation sufferers
who are at very high of stroke but are unable to tolerate
warfarin - the anticoagulant drug used to thin blood.
Warfarin is highly toxic in the wrong dose and patients
need to be closely monitored to make sure there is not
too much in their blood.
Researcher Dr Peter Block, from the department of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: "This could be a new therapy for patients with atrial fibrillation.
It just catches the clot
"There were no adverse events and there seems to be a reduction in stroke. It just catches the clot."
Atrial fibrillation is a common ailment where abnormalities in heart rhythm increase the dangers of clots forming in the heart and making their way to the brain - causing a stroke.
For years, doctors have used warfarin to control clots but
the drug is difficult to manage and many patients are
unable to tolerate it.
The new device, called percutaneous left atrial
appendage transcatheter occlusion - or PLAATO for
short - could be the solution.
It comes in the form of a tiny, collapsible metal cage
covered with a membrane.
The device is fitted to the end of a catheter and fed through the body until it reaches the left atrial appendage - a tiny chamber within the heart where 90% of strokes caused by
atrial fibrillation begin.
The plug is then expanded and tugged gently so that
tiny hooks embed themselves in the surrounding
tissue - effectively sealing off the exit.
If a clot does form, it is then 'captured' in the device
before it can make its way to the brain.
So far, more than 50 patients have had the implant
fitted - mostly in Europe - and results suggest it is safe
Dr Block said the beauty of the device is it can be withdrawn if it does not fit properly.
"It just collapses and we pull it out. We are optimistic
this is a good treatment for those patients who are not
good candidates for anticoagulation."
The research was presented at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in Chicago.