The History of the Heart Stent

One of the major problems in medicine concerns blockages of blood vessels causing a lack of blood, and therefore oxygen, to an organ. One way to treat this is to remove the blockage. But in some cases this is too dangerous or difficult to achieve or would not provide a lasting solution.

This means that a different solution is required, that involves physically opening the blocked vessel and keeping it open. An expandable wire or laser-perforated tube that achieves this is known as a stent, with a heart stent being used in the treatment of coronary heart disease as an alternative to bypass surgery.

The word stent has two possible etymologies. One possibility is that it is from stenting’ which was an obsolete term that was used for centuries to mean stiffening a garment. The other possiblity is that it came from Jan F. Esser, a Dutch plastic surgeon who in 1916 used the word stent to mean a dental impression compound invented in 1856 by Charles Stent, which Esser used in facial reconstruction.

The first medical stents were invented by Hans Wallsten, a Swedish engineer, and were originally called Wallstents, this later being shortened to stents. The first heart stent was invented in 1969 by Charles Theodore Dotter, experimenting on the peripheral arteries of a dog. It was not until 1986 that the first human coronary heart stant implantation was performed, by Jacques Puel in France.

In recent years stent technology has improved further with the development of a drug-eluting heart stent. First implanted in 2001, it releases an anti-closure drug after cardiac angioplasty. The resulting improvement in survival rates has led to a reduction in the use of bypass surgery in favour of stent implantation.