Drug Eluting Stent – The Savior of Your Heart Beats


Drug Eluting Stent – The Savior of Your Heart Beats

Cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes claim over 18 million lives globally each year according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The most common culprit? Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease – the gradual buildup of plaque inside the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. As this narrowing worsens, it chokes off blood flow, causing chest pain, heart attacks, heart failure and even sudden cardiac death.

But there’s hope. Modern medicine has a minimally invasive solution – the coronary stent. This tiny mesh tube props open clogged arteries to restore life-giving blood flow. First approved in 1994, bare metal stents were a major advance over balloon angioplasty alone. However, restenosis – the re-narrowing of the stented artery – emerged as a major limitation, occurring in 20-30% of patients within 6 months and often requiring repeat procedures.

Enter the drug-eluting stent (DES). By releasing anti-proliferative medications, DES slashed restenosis rates to under 10%, proving transformational in treating coronary disease. For millions worldwide, these tiny drug-loaded devices spell the difference between debilitating angina and resuming an active life.

How Do Drug Eluting Stents Work?

DES build on the mechanical scaffolding of bare metal stents by adding a drug delivery component. They work via:

  1. The stent platform – Usually made of stainless steel or cobalt-chromium alloy, this expandable metal mesh physically keeps the artery propped open.
  2. The drug coating – A polymer-based coating on the stent surface contains and slowly releases an anti-proliferative drug over time.
  3. Inhibiting neointimal hyperplasia – The eluted drug blocks smooth muscle cell growth and migration into the stented region to prevent re-narrowing.

So in essence, DES act as miniature drug pumps inside coronary arteries – providing localized, controlled release of a therapeutic payload to favorably alter the tissue healing response after stenting.

First Generation DES: A Breakthrough

The first DES gained FDA approval in 2003 – the Cypher sirolimus-eluting stent (Cordis) and the Taxus paclitaxel-eluting stent (Boston Scientific). Driven by the potent drugs they contained, these devices represented a landmark advance:

  • Sirolimus – An immunosuppressant that inhibits cell cycle progression
  • Paclitaxel – A chemotherapy agent that disrupts microtubule function

Major clinical trials (RAVEL, SIRIUS, TAXUS) soon confirmed the vast superiority of DES over bare metal stents, especially for complex coronary blockages. At 2 years, DES cut restenosis and repeat procedure rates by up to 70%. Patients enjoyed much improved quality of life thanks to lasting symptom relief.

Hailed as the biggest advance in coronary stenting since balloon angioplasty, first generation DES rapidly penetrated over 90% of the global market by 2007. They gained strong endorsement in both European and U.S. practice guidelines as millions worldwide reaped the rewards.

Limitations Emerge

However, as with any new technology, the initial DES euphoria eventually gave way to a more nuanced understanding of their limitations and safety concerns:

  • Restenosis – While markedly reduced, in-stent re-narrowing still occurred in 5-10% of patients by 3 years, requiring re-treatment.
  • Stent thrombosis – A rare but catastrophic event causing sudden clotting and closure of the stented artery. First generation DES showed slightly higher late stent thrombosis rates vs bare metal stents.
  • Myocardial infarction (MI) – Some studies suggested a small increased risk of both early and late heart attacks with first generation DES.
  • Polymer issues – The permanent polymers used to bind drug coatings were implicated in localized inflammation, hypersensitivity reactions, and delayed healing.

These limitations triggered a reassessment of the risk-benefit tradeoffs with broad DES use, especially in lower risk patients. They also fueled the drive for further improvements.

Second Generation DES: Enhancing Safety and Performance

To address first generation shortcomings, second generation DES focused on boosting both safety and efficacy through:

  1. Newer stent platforms – Stronger, more flexible alloys (platinum-chromium) and innovative designs enhanced deliverability and radial strength.
  2. Alternative drugs – Agents like everolimus, zotarolimus and biolimus provided wider therapeutic windows.
  3. Biocompatible polymers – More inert coatings caused less inflammation while improving drug binding to stent surfaces.
  4. Lower drug doses – Reducing drug concentrations and using faster release kinetics promoted better vessel healing.
  5. Bioabsorbable polymers – Coatings designed to completely degrade over time eliminated issues with permanent polymers.

Head-to-head trials showed second generation DES to be safer and more effective than first generation devices. For example, the Xience V everolimus-eluting stent (Abbott) proved superior to earlier DES in multiple studies, matching bare metal stents for very late stent thrombosis while maintaining a significant restenosis benefit at 5 years.

By the late 2000s, as more evidence accumulated, second generation DES replaced first generation as the new standard of care, with advantages extending to a broader patient population.

Current Advances: Bioresorbable Scaffolds

After two decades of refining metallic DES, cutting-edge research is now unlocking a new frontier: fully bioresorbable stents that provide temporary scaffolding before getting completely absorbed, leaving nothing behind in the artery.

The first such bioresorbable vascular scaffold (BVS) to gain approval was the Absorb everolimus-eluting stent (Abbott) in 2011. Made of polylactide, the Absorb stent restored the treated vessel to a near normal state within about 3 years after implantation.

Compared to permanent metallic DES, potential benefits of bioresorbable stents include:

  • Restored normal vessel function and responsiveness
  • Continued opening up of the stented segment over time
  • Avoiding limitations on future treatment options
  • Eliminating the risk of very late stent thrombosis

However, engineering challenges like thicker stent struts have produced mixed results in early BVS trials against current generation DES. Hurdles remain in optimizing bioresorbable platforms for deliverability, expansion, visibility and radial strength.

While not yet ready for prime time, bioresorbable stents represent a promising future direction in moving towards a more naturally harmonious approach to opening coronary blockages.

Tailoring Stents to Patient Needs

Today, interventional cardiologists can select from a diverse array of DES options to personalize treatment based on patient and lesion characteristics. Specific stent features allow matching devices to clinical needs:

Stent FeatureClinical Consideration
DeliverabilityTortuous or calcified lesions
ConformabilityVessels with many bends
Side branch accessBifurcation lesions
BiocompatibilityPatients with polymer allergies
Drug release kineticsDiabetes, long lesions
Dual antiplatelet therapyBleeding risk

This enables a precision medicine approach to tailor stent attributes like drug, polymer, release kinetics and platform to individual scenarios, optimizing outcomes.

Ongoing research is further expanding the DES armamentarium with novel options like novolimus-eluting stents, specialized stent designs (PROMUS PREMIERTM), and bio-engineered drug carrier technologies (Orsiro), each targeting specific performance goals.

The Future of Stenting

What began as a simple metal scaffold has evolved into a sophisticated localized drug delivery system, allowing doctors to precisely target coronary blockages with personalized therapy.

Stent technology continues to advance at a rapid clip. Developments on the horizon include:

  • Further stent miniaturization to enable treatment of smaller vessels
  • Refined drug release kinetics for ultra-thin stent struts and complex lesions
  • Targeted drug combinations to enhance healing and clinical outcomes
  • Smart stents with sensors for monitoring flow and healing
  • 3D printing for patient-specific stent designs
  • Nanoparticle drug delivery for efficient localized effect

Coupled with progressive improvements in bioresorbable platforms, the future of stenting is clearly aimed at ever greater treatment precision and optimization.

The Bottom Line

From bare metal beginnings, the drug-eluting stent has revolutionized the treatment of coronary artery disease over the past two decades. By providing localized drug delivery to favorably modulate the body’s response to stenting, DES have dramatically reduced the need for repeat procedures due to re-narrowing.

Today, over 4 million stent procedures are performed globally each year, with DES conferring symptom relief and improved quality of life for the vast majority. As a result, stent-based coronary revascularization has become a cornerstone treatment in the fight against the world’s leading cause of death.

While first generation devices achieved impressive efficacy, ongoing enhancements in stent design, drug regimens, polymer coatings and bioresorbable technologies continue to refine DES safety and performance. Interventional cardiologists now have an expanding range of tools to tailor stenting strategies to individual patients.

From enabling treatment of previously untreatable blockages to shortening post-procedure recovery times, the impact of the drug-eluting stent on clinical practice and patient care cannot be overstated. Millions of patients worldwide owe their lives and livelihoods to these tiny devices.

As stent technologies become ever more sophisticated, the future of coronary revascularization is clearly moving towards greater precision, personalization and harmony with natural vessel biology. For countless patients battling the global epidemic of cardiovascular disease, the drug-eluting stent is truly the savior of heartbeats.

Are drug-eluting stents safe?

Yes, they are considered safe for most patients, but always consult with your doctor for individual advice.

What lifestyle changes are recommended post-implantation?

Quitting smoking, adhering to a heart-healthy diet, and regular exercise are crucial.