Coronary arteries are the main blood vessels that supply the heart. Sometimes, these arteries can become narrowed or blocked, which can lead to the flow of blood to the heart becoming restricted. A coronary angioplasty is a surgical procedure used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries. You may be surprised to learn that it is carried out using local anaesthetic and did you know that it involves a tiny balloon? The surgeon makes a tiny incision in your groin, arm or wrist and inserts a catheter. This is then guided to your affected coronary artery using an X-ray video. A tiny balloon is then inserted into the artery via the catheter. The balloon is then inflated to squash any fatty deposits against the wall of the artery widening it once more. This allows blood to flow freely again after the balloon is removed. A stent is sometimes also added and enters the artery at the same time as the balloon. It remains in place after the balloon has been deflated and removed to ensure the artery remains in the best possible shape to allow blood to flow freely going forward. The entire procedure only takes around 30 minutes to two hours and most patients are allowed to go home after just one or two days.
A vaccine that helps lower cholesterol will now be trialled on humans following successful studies in mice. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna will now test the safety of their experimental treatment – which stops fatty deposits clogging the arteries – on 72 volunteers. If the trials are successful, the vaccine would offer an alternative for people who currently take pills on a daily basis to reduce their risk of angina, stroke and heart attack. Writing about their cholesterol-lowering vaccine in the European Heart Journal, Dr Guenther Staffler and colleagues from The Netherlands Organisation of Applied Scientific Research say it will take many more years of tests before it is known whether the treatment is safe and effective in humans. In studies of mice, the treatment cut low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) by as much as 50% over 12 months and appeared to stop the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. Regardless of whether the vaccine becomes available in the future, the researchers were keen to stress that it should not be seen as an excuse for people to avoid exercise and eat lots of high-fat food. Nevertheless, the treatment could be useful for individuals who have high cholesterol due to an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia.