Australian researchers Wednesday said they had developed a world-first treatment which could save hundreds of thousands of smokers and diabetics from undergoing leg amputations.
The procedure involves pumping blood at high pressure into limbs dying of vascular disease to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, the researchers said, and has saved the leg of the first patient to be treated.
"This is a significant advance for the 340,000 patients in the Western world who lose a leg to surgical amputation every year due to peripheral vascular disease," said inventor and vascular surgeon Rodney Lane.
The clinical trial had been carried out on a 52-year-old Australian man, Malcolm Brown, who had been told by three surgeons that he needed a major lower limb amputation, said Lane of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital.
The father of two had developed a clot in an artery near his knee, which severely restricted the blood supply to his lower leg.
"Malcolm's foot lost sensation and became cold and white. Gangrenous ulcers formed on his feet and toes as the flesh started to die," said Lane.
Brown agreed to participate in the trial of the new procedure and had a device implanted in the femoral artery in the thigh, which was connected to a blood pump outside the body.
His own blood was then pumped through the leg at high pressure, resulting in a 250 percent increase in the blood flow to the foot and stimulating new blood vessel growth.
"After 50 hours on the pump over a five day period, Malcolm's foot became warm and pink with marked improved sensation and notable healing of the ulcers on his feet and toes," Lane said in a statement.
"Malcolm's leg was saved by stimulating the growth of his own blood vessels which ultimately restored the blood flow to his leg."
A year later Brown still has his leg and is walking.
"We wanted to make sure that it stayed a success and what we saw immediately turned out to be a permanent cure," said Greg Roger, the chief executive officer of the company that makes the implanted device.
Roger, associate professor of bioengineering at Sydney University, told AFP it was hoped that further clinical trials would be completed by the end of the year to make the procedure available for general use.