Lots of people know about stents. They’re the tiny wire-mesh coils used to prop open arteries.
What most people don’t know is that the type widely used now — drug-eluting stents — were developed with funding from the American Heart Association.
Dr. Andrew R. Marks is the researcher credited with this medical advance. He’s chairman/professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center.
When a coronary artery is narrowed by fatty deposits called plaque, blood flow is reduced. Chest pain or a heart attack can result. To prevent this, the narrowed artery can be opened with angioplasty (a balloon-tipped catheter that’s inflated to compress the plaque). After the catheter is withdrawn, a stent can be placed to hold the artery open.
Before Marks’ innovation, stents were made of bare metal. Unfortunately, in about one in four cases, fatty plaques would build up again where the bare metal stent was placed, narrowing the artery in a matter of months. Bypass surgery, which is more expensive and harder on patients, often then became the only option.
Dr. Marks developed a slow-release drug called rapamycin to coat stents and inhibit restenosis. Now restenosis occurs in less than 10 percent of cases.
Today Dr. Marks is working on a drug to prevent sudden death from arrhythmia. The drug has shown promise in mice, but hasn’t yet been tested on people.
“AHA should take credit for this work. I have always been supported by AHA, and that support was instrumental in my development as a scientist.”