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Saturday, 19 August, 2000, 00:32 GMT 01:32 UK
'Hi-tech probe' stops heart blockages
The probe is pushed up into the heart
The probe is pushed up into the heart
A coating on probes used in common heart procedures could prevent thousands of patients needing extra hospital treatment.

Researchers placed a "ceramide" coating on balloon catheters used in a procedure called angioplasty.

This involves sliding the balloon into an artery supplying the heart which has become clogged and blocked in patients with heart disease.

The balloon is inflated to reopen the artery fully, and sometimes a tube called a stent is inserted to keep it open.

Reblocked artery

However, pushing the tube up into the artery causes damage, which causes a reaction in the body which rapidly lays down new tissue, often reblocking the artery.

This happens after about 40% of angioplasties.

If that happens, the procedure will either have to be repeated, or the patient given heart bypass surgery, a much riskier operation from which it takes months to recover.

The new probe is covered with a membrane called Ceramide, which delivers a drug which stops part of the re-blocking process.

Researchers from Penn State University in the US found that the risk of subsequent blockages in animals was reduced by more than 90% when the new catheter was used.

Their research is published in the journal Circulation Research.

Immense potential

If the results are borne out in human trials, which may start within two years, the potential for saving lives and money will be immense.

Thousands of angioplasties are carried out in the UK every year - and reblocked arteries which need reopening or replacing cost the NHS millions.

Dr Mark Kester, the leader of the study, suggests that there might be even more potential benefits.

"Patients who suffer from kidney diseases and need dialysis must be connected to dialysis machines through functional arteries and veins.

"The access ports often become clogged or restricted. We think the ceramide treatment could help those patients as well."

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