Study: Heart Stents Improve Survival

Giving heart patients a blood-thinning drug and inserting tiny metal coils into their blocked arteries could save 15,000 lives a year worldwide by reducing deaths after angioplasty, a study finds.

In traditional angioplasty, a tiny balloon is inflated inside the artery, compressing the fatty buildup on the vessel wall. It is one of the most common medical procedures done today, but about 40 percent later fail when the artery clogs up again. The metal coils, implanted into the blockage site of arteries through a balloon, are used today in about 1 million people a year, 75 percent of all angioplasty operations.

Physicians have embraced the devices, known as stents, over the last five years mostly because they reduce the need for a repeat angioplasty operation. But that advantage has been considered a trade-off against the uncertainty of their long-term benefits and safety. There had been no evidence that they improved survival; a study last year showed they could increase the likelihood of a heart attack in the month following insertion.

The new study, published in this week's issue of the Lancet medical journal, is the largest ever comparing the benefits of stents with balloons alone, has tracked patients for the longest time and is the first to address how stents measure up in preventing death.

The 2,399 patients were divided into three groups. The first had a stent plus the popular blood-thinning drug ReoPro, a second had the stent with a fake drug and the third group underwent traditional balloon angioplasty, which included the drug. The patients were followed for a year. It seemed that using the drug in combination with the stent was key to getting the best results. Neither the stent alone, nor the balloon together with the drug, performed as well.

Human Corneas Grown in Lab

Researchers have created the first laboratory-grown human corneas, prompting excitement that the tissue could replace some chemical testing on animals' eyes and marking a major step toward development of artificial corneas for transplant.

The cornea is a window into the eye, a transparent protective covering that focuses light to the proper spot for vision. Some 40,000 corneal transplants are performed each year using corneas donated at death, enabling people whose corneas became damaged or clouded to see again.

But there are barely enough donations to fill that need, leaving little for researchers to use. The short supply also means manufacturers often must test the toxicity of chemicals and medications on animals, usually rabbits' eyes, prompting protests from animal rights activists.

The new advance, published in today's issue of the journal Science, is a first step toward development of a supply of artificial corneas for eye surgery.

The artificial cornea's first use probably would be for medical research. Manufacturers are studying whether the corneas could be mass produced and properly respond to toxicity testing, in hopes that they could replace some animal testing.