Drano for clogged arteries

March 10, 2011 3:13:08 PM PST
Imagine a treatment for clogged arteries that opens them up much in the same way Drano opens up a clogged drain.

That is the principle behind a new therapy surgeons are testing for patients with total blockages in the arteries.

For years, Joseph Mashtaler spent all his spare time exploring the outdoors near his home in Ontario, Canada. Until two years ago, when heart disease kept him virtually housebound.

"Even my children, who are adults said, 'Dad, what happened? You were invincible,'" Mashtaler said. "That's what hit me. I just want to be normal."

The artery leading to Joseph's heart was totally blocked. Doctors tried a traditional approach to reopen the artery, but the plaque that had built up inside his arteries was too dense for angioplasty to work. Dr. Bradley Strauss, at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, pioneered a new treatment that would give patients with total blockage another option.

"I've been working on a type of chemical, Drano, to soften the collagen inside the plaque, so it's easier to cross with our conventional guide wires and equipment," Dr. Strauss said.

Doctors inject the enzyme into the blockage and the drug softens the plaque overnight.

"We'll bring the patient back the next day and will just use a conventional approach to doing angioplasty," Dr. Strauss said.

Strauss says reopening the artery this way, means some patients may not have to undergo bypass surgery at all. For Joseph, that means a faster recovery -- reason enough to celebrate.

Dr. Strauss was able to successfully perform angioplasty on 12 of 15 patients who were injected with the enzyme. All of the patients in the trial had a previous failed attempt at opening the occlusion. The researcher is about to begin a large clinical trial of the enzyme in Canada and the U.S.