Although the physician who first wanted to open blocked blood vessels was described as “something of a radical” by his colleagues, even he might have been surprised by the idea of a tiny plastic scaffold that holds open an artery and then dissolves. When Charles Dotter of Oregon Health & Science University proposed in 1969 his “coil-spring endarterial tube” to accompany what is now known as angioplasty, he envisioned a tube or coil made of metal, known as a stent, that lasts forever.
For decades metal has been the norm in stents. But in October dissolvable versions reached an important milestone, with the release of clinical trial data in The New England Journal of Medicine showing a degradable device made by Abbott Vascular performed as well as its traditional counterpart. In theory, dissolvable implants reduce the risk of inflammation, blood clots and other side effects. The report not only represents the likely future of stents but also a highly visible advance from the emerging field of biodegradable technologies. Researchers in the field envision the day when most medical hardware implanted into the body—such as that used for joint repair or surgical wound support—will last only as long as it is needed.