A research team from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada has developed a ‘smart stent’ that can monitor even subtle changes in the blood flow of arteries, allowing the detection of narrowing in its earliest stages and making early diagnosis and treatment possible.

The device is made of medical-grade stainless steel and looks similar to most commercial stents. The researchers claim it is the first angioplasty-ready smart stent. It can be implanted using current medical procedures and so its use requires no new modifications.

The team was led by UBC electrical and computer engineering professor Kenichi Takahata. He said: “We modified a stent to function as a miniature antenna and added a special micro-sensor that we developed to continuously track blood flow. The data can then be sent wirelessly to an external reader, providing constantly updated information on the artery’s condition.”

One of the researchers, vascular surgeon and UBC professor Dr York Hsiang, stated that monitoring for restenosis is critical in managing heart disease.

One in three patients who have had a stent implanted to keep clogged arteries open and prevent heart attacks will experience restenosis and the potential additional complications that the condition can bring.

Hsiang said: “X-rays such as CT or diagnostic angiograms, which are the standard tools for diagnosis, can be impractical or inconvenient for the patient,” said Hsiang. “Putting a smart stent in place of a standard one can enable physicians to monitor their patient’s health more easily and offer treatment, if needed, in a timely manner.”

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A prototype of the device was successfully tested in the lab and in a pig model. Takahata holds the patents for the technology. Next, his team plan to establish industry partnerships with the aim of refining the device, putting it through clinical trials and eventually commercialising it.