Tiny parachute that could help thousands of heart attack victims
A device that looks like a tiny parachute could save thousands of heart attack patients from heart failure.
The parachute, which is ‘deployed’ only once it is inside the heart, works by sealing off an area of muscle damaged during a heart attack, where a blood clot starves the organ of oxygen.
This reduces the size of the heart’s pumping chamber, cutting the amount of work it has to do to pump blood around the body.
Around 30 per cent of people who have a heart attack go on to develop heart failure within five years
It also stops the heart muscle from becoming even more damaged, which could otherwise lead to severe heart failure.
Researchers hope it could even save some patients from needing a heart transplant.
A handful of patients in the UK have had the implant — called the Parachute — fitted inside their hearts as part of a major international trial involving up to 100 patients.
Heart failure is a condition that affects almost one million Britons.
It can develop slowly over time as the result of high blood pressure or blocked arteries, but around 30 per cent of people who have a heart attack go on to develop heart failure within five years.
This is because scarring caused by a heart attack can weaken heart muscle, leaving it unable to contract as well as it used to.
The heart must then work harder to keep sufficient blood moving around the body. Eventually, heart failure sets in, and the heart cannot pump enough blood around the body.
Symptoms range from fatigue and shortness of breath to loss of appetite and abnormal heart rate.
Many patients with serious heart failure have to rely on wearing an oxygen mask most of the time, or they even require a heart transplant
Patients need to take drugs to control their blood pressure, as well as anticoagulants to reduce the risk of a clot forming inside the heart, which can form when blood pools in the heart’s pumping chambers.
A common treatment is an implantable cardioverter defibrillator — a device that ‘shocks’ the heart back into action if it stops beating.
But many patients with serious heart failure have to rely on wearing an oxygen mask most of the time, or they even require a heart transplant.
The new treatment, which is being used in a trial at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, as well as University College Hospital, in London, could keep damaged hearts in good working order — certainly healthy enough to boost patients’ quality of life and help them avoid surgery.
Using just a local anaesthetic, doctors feed a thin tube, or catheter, through a tiny incision in the groin.
The closed Parachute is fed up through the body’s network of blood vessels on the end of a wire that sits inside the tube.
When it gets inside the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, it is lowered over the bottom part of the chamber and then opened up.
Half of all heart attacks harm the muscle at the bottom of this chamber, as this is the area most damaged when the heart is starved of oxygen. Tiny hooks then pierce surrounding healthy tissue, fixing the Parachute firmly in place.
The waterproof membrane that makes up the ‘canopy’ stops blood from getting through to the blocked area.
The catheter is then withdrawn and the parachute left in place permanently. This effectively cuts the size of the left ventricle, reducing the strain on the heart.
Commenting on the study, Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘A major problem for people with congestive heart failure is the heart not pumping efficiently.
‘It can lead to symptoms which get progressively worse, including fatigue and shortness of breath.
‘Current medical treatments help, but are often limited in their effectiveness.
'This procedure could provide an additional and novel way to help people with heart failure.’
Meanwhile, in another development, scientists are growing new heart tissue from a patient’s own cells to help tackle cardiac problems.
Tiny clusters of specialised heart cells, called cardiospheres, are being surgically extracted from patients, multiplied in a laboratory, and then injected back into the patient, where they replace tissue damaged by heart attacks and other problems.
In two clinical trials due to start shortly, they will be injected into the muscle tissue irreparably damaged during a heart attack.
Cardiosphere cells are a form of stem cells found in the heart. These cells have the ability to make new heart cells but do not create these in high enough numbers to repair the damage caused by a heart attack.
Scientists therefore give them a boost by multiplying them in the lab and making them form new tissue, which is injected back into the patient’s heart.
The trial, at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in the U.S., follows animal studies which have shown that the cells are capable of safely forming heart muscle and blood vessel cells.
Patients on the trial will get injections of ten million new cells at each site.