Lab Canada

Canadian researcher awarded for breakthrough discovery in treating narrowed arteries

Calgary, AB – A breakthrough discovery by Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher Dr Michael Kutryk that harnesses the body’s own natural defenses to fight narrowing of the arteries has been recognized as a glimpse into the future and potentially one of the biggest advances in cardiology to date.

Dr Kutryk was presented with the Canadian Cardiovascular Society’s Young Investigator Award this week at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2004 in Calgary, co-hosted by the society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

“We’re proud to recognize talented researchers in the early stages of their careers, and look forward to many more years of great work from Dr Kutryk,” says Dr David Johnstone, president of the society.

A stent is a small, stainless steel mesh tube inserted as a scaffolding to open up plaque-blocked coronary arteries and to keep them open. But in the first six months of treatment, between 15% and 40% of patients with a stent experience renewed narrowing of the arteries and blocking of the stent. Called restenosis, it is caused by the formation of extensive scar tissue on the inside wall of the artery where the stent is located. To date, the only solution has been to coat the surface of stents with powerful drugs prior to inserting the stent. Although these drugs can prevent restenosis, they inhibit the growth of the endothelium, which is the innermost cell layer of the blood vessel. A healthy endothelium is necessary for the maintenance of a healthy blood vessel and the lack of endothelium prevents full healing and can result in life-threatening blood clots.

Now, both plain stainless steel stents and their drug-eluting cousins may be on the way out, according to Dr Kutryk. “The stent we developed with the help of our Heart and Stroke Foundation funding promotes healing of the artery wall and prevents blood clots. In fact, it completely heals blood vessels within 48 hours,” he says.

He coats his stents with a laboratory-designed antibody that captures naturally occurring endothelial cells in circulating blood. Within minutes of inserting the stent, the antibodies have grabbed endothelial cells from the bloodstream and completely coated the stent.

Clinical trials for safety and efficacy have been conducted on patients in Holland, Belgium and Germany. A Canadian trial of 400 patients is set to begin next year. Dr Kutryk is also currently being funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation to develop a bio-degradable stent that will simply disappear after it has healed the artery or blood vessel.

Much of the interest is centred around the anti-blood-clotting capability of the new endothelial surface coatings produced by the “snatch and grab” action of the antibodies.

“For people with extensive coronary artery disease that cannot be treated using coronary stents, we are designing synthetic, non-clotting, vascular grafts which surgeons can just order up from the hospital pharmacy. That would replace current techniques of transferring one of the patient’s veins from the leg into the heart. This could cut the time for bypass surgery in half,” he says.

Also on Dr Kutryk’s research agenda are endothelial cell coated neurological clips and mechanical heart valves. In both of these procedures blood clotting is a constant risk that must be kept at kept at bay by drugs. These drugs can also cause side effects, for some patients including fatal hemorrhages.