December 1, 2008 — Interventional cardiologists used magnetic particles to accelerate the process of healing after the placement of a stent. To do this, they extract cells from the interior of a patient's blood vessels, cultivate them, and insert iron-based paramagnetic particles into the cells. When the cells are reintroduced to the blood, this attracts them to the magnetic coating on the stent, creating a film of living cells that promotes tissue healing and ultimately reduces the risk of blood clot formation.
A common heart problem may now have a magnetic solution. Researchers are using the laws of attraction to make heart stents that unclog blood vessels more safely.
A puppy named Cash is the newest member of Bob Stortron's family. At 68, Stortron says it's not too hard keeping up with him. A few years ago, it may have been more difficult. Stortron's heart was fading, and he had to have a stent put in. Stents reinforce blood vessel walls to keep vessels open and blood flowing.
"When you're talking about numbers of patients in the millions, 1 percent can add up to pretty large numbers," Gurpreet Sandhu, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said of those who need heart stents.
Normally, it takes weeks for endothelial cells to coat stents and blood vessels to heal. Now, interventional cardiologists are testing magnetic stents that attract those cells faster. First, cells are taken from the blood and tagged with iron microspheres. Then, a magnetic stent is threaded through the blood vessel. At last, tagged cells are sent through the blood vessels to see if they are attracted to the stent.
"This will hopefully mean fewer repeat procedures on patients and better quality of life for our patients," Dr. Sandhu said.
Dr. Sandhu says the technology speeds up healing to just days, requires fewer blood thinners and lowers the risk of blood clots.
Stortron says he couldn't ask for a better life, and he's content spending the rest of it enjoying his family.
"I hope I'm around for a long time, but I don't have control over that button," Stortron said.
WHAT MAKES MATERIALS MAGNETIC? Magnetism comes from the constant movement of charged electrons in atoms. As electrons swirl around an atom, they create an electrical current, and whenever electricity moves in a current, a magnetic field is created. So magnetism is a force between electric currents: two currents flowing in the same direction attract, while those pulling in opposite directions repel. The reason some materials are magnetic, while others are not, has to do with how the electrons are ordered. A magnet is an object made of magnetic materials; naturally occurring magnets are known as lodestones. Every magnet has at least one north pole and one south pole. In fact, if you take a bar magnet and break it into two pieces, each of the smaller pieces will still have a north and south pole. The Earth itself is a giant magnet with a north and south pole, which is why a magnetic compass's needle always points north/south.
WHAT ARE STENTS? A stent is essentially a small piece of metal "scaffolding" that pushes arterial plaque to the side and provides a framework to keep the blood vessel open so that the blood can flow freely through it. Stents have been used for many years to clear blockages in the arteries of the heart and neck.