Cardiovascular disease is Ireland’s most common cause of death, according to the Irish Heart Foundation, with approximately 10,000 people dying each year from it. One of the biggest contributors to heart failure is when a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, and a popular remedy for this is to insert a heart stent.

However, existing stents on the market require a lot of management, with the patient expected to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their life and, in some instances, there can be unpleasant side effects.

Now, with the aim of potentially making this a thing of the past, researcher Dr Yuanyuan Chen at the Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) has revealed a breakthrough stent design using bioresorbable scaffolding that can dissolve in the artery over time.

Major medtech companies have been attempting to make bioresorbable stents for years in order to prevent the need for future, invasive surgery to remove current generation stents. Abbott was one of the first to demonstrate its own dissolving stent, but the cost of the materials resulted in low sales and saw it being taken off the market late last year.

Perfecting the technology

The main difference between the stent Chen is creating and what’s currently on offer commercially is that hers is made from a stronger, reinforced polymer that enables her to create thinner and more durable biodegradable coronary stents.

Her design uses a specific blend of PLA polymer that is extremely cheap to produce and, using a process called fused deposition modelling, she can then 3D-print the stents. She has said, however, that right now her concept is in its earliest stages and there remains a number of challenges to overcome.

“Absorbable stents are wonderful in theory and have the capacity to revolutionise the world of modern medicine, but the technology hasn’t been perfected,” Chen said.

“These stents perform an important function and once their job is done, they should break down and be naturally absorbed by the body. Problems arise if they dissolve too early and haven’t fully fulfilled their function.”

In recognition of her achievement, Chen was awarded AIT’s Women in Research award. “I’m extremely honoured to be the first recipient of this inaugural award and I feel it’s indicative of the institute’s commitment to supporting women in STEM and to achieving gender parity in our workforce,” she said.

Colm Gorey

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