After surgery restores blood flow through blocked arteries, a stent keeps the patient’s blood vessels from narrowing in -- which impedes circulation -- as the tissue regrows. Usually, it’s a tube made of metal mesh (like the ones pictured), or sometimes fabric.
Stents have been used to prop open the arteries of 7 million Americans in the last decade at a cost of more than $110 billion. While most agree that they’re beneficial, Bloomberg explains, some say their overuse could weaken the heart, exposing patients to complications such as blood clots.
Abbott Laboratories have developed a stent the size of a ballpoint pen’s spring that’s delicate enough to hold a cardiac artery open after surgery. Then after it's no longer needed, it dissolves in the body, enabling a more natural recovery without the threat of long-term damage from a standard metal stent.
The biodegradable plastic starts to dissolve after six months, and after about two years, it’s fully absorbed into the body. This allows arteries to heal naturally, reducing the risk of stent-induced blood clots.
This new stent has been implanted in tens of thousands of patients in India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, as well as parts of Europe and Latin America. U.S. clinical trials began earlier this year, and a U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval is expected in 2015.
The new stent will probably cost around $1,800 by 2016 -- compared with $1,100 for a metal one -- and may generate $1 billion by 2018.