Device promises better way of unblocking arteries

A new mechanical device for unblocking arteries narrowed by plaque could improve the success rate of existing surgical procedures, its makers claim.

Developed by engineers at Limerick University it combines the functions of balloon angioplasty and filtration of break-off plaque while maintaining blood flow throughout the procedure.

Angioplasty is a long-established technique for mechanically widening narrowed or obstructed blood vessels, generally 3-8mm in diameter.

However, during treatment particles of the fatty deposits can become dislodged and enter the blood stream which can block other arteries resulting in strokes or heart attacks. Embolic protection devices are often used to capture and remove the dislodged fatty deposits.

‘They’re essentially very small fishnet devices that are deployed in the artery downstream of the plaque – it filters the blood and takes out all the bigger pieces,’ said Dr Michael Walsh, principal investigator and lead inventor.

The new device developed by Walsh and colleagues combines both balloon principles and filtration The really innovative aspect though, is the dual-route flow it incorporates. Essentially there is a hole through the middle of the device that allows regular blood flow. Meanwhile the second ‘route’ allows the balloon to stretch the walls of the artery then immediately catch any resulting plaque break-offs in the filter. This presents some distinct advantages over existing devices, as Walsh explains.

‘Typically, balloons are inflated for four seconds, then deflated, then inflated again and they might do that four or fives times, whereas with ours you can inflate it and leave it there until it can be shown the plaque won’t recoil and re-block the artery.’

Ultimately, Walsh believes it could improve the success rate of the more than one million angioplasty procedures undertaken worldwide each year.

The technology has now been licensed to Galway-based medical devices company, Clada Medical, who hope to tap into the approximate €500m market surrounding angioplasty.

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