Little mesh tubes known as stents are inserted in the blocked arteries of over 1 million in the US who are affected by heart attacks and other heart conditions, to prop them open. The procedure has saved many lives, but it still has potentially deadly downsides. Now scientists are reporting in the ACS journal Langmuir that coating stents with vitamin C could lower the implants' risks even further. Eagappanath Thiruppathi and Gopinath Mani note that today's stents have come a long way since their first introduction. Today, they come coated with pharmaceuticals that can prevent the affected arteries from reclogging. The problem is that about 10,000 to 50,000 people who receive these drug-eluting stents develop something called "late stent thrombosis" (LST), a potentially fatal complication that happens when clots form and re-block the arteries. Although the drugs on the stents are helpful in most cases, they might be responsible for causing problems in others. The compounds prevent the growth of smooth muscle cells that can clog the affected area, but they can also prevent the growth of helpful endothelial cells that, in addition to the drugs, are critical to preventing LST. Thiruppathi and Mani set out to find a way to address this problem.
Previous research has shown that vitamin C could be a good alternative or addition to the drugs currently used to coat stents. The essential nutrient inhibits smooth muscle cells and encourages endothelial cells — just the traits the scientists were looking for. So they figured out a way to successfully coat a common stent material with vitamin C so that it would release the nutrient slowly over time. They concluded that this technique could be useful for making stents and other implantable medical devices safer.