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High Tech Treatment: A Device that can Stop Strokes as they are Happening

separator In September, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first device that can remove blood clots from the brains of people who are having ischemic strokes. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in this country, and 80 percent of strokes are the ischemic kind. During an ischemic stroke, a blood clot lodges in a blood vessel in the brain, stopping the flow of blood. Serious strokes can cause permanent disability, including inability to move or speak, and even death. The faster surgeons are able to restore blood flow, the less brain tissue suffers damage and the less likely patients are to sustain permanent disability. 

The current treatment for a person who is having a stroke is a so-called “clot-busting” drug called tPA. It dissolves the clot that’s causing the stroke. But tPA is effective only during the first 3 hours of a stroke. Many patients miss that crucial window of time, usually because they’re not able to get to the hospital fast enough. Other patients may not be able to take tPA safely because they’re already taking medications that affect blood clotting. 

Device extends timeframe for treatment
The new device, which can remove the stroke-causing blood clot, is called the MERCI Retriever. MERCI stands for Mechanical Embolus Removal in Cerebral Ischemia.  It can be used up to 8 hours after a stroke begins. This extended timeframe for stroke treatment brings hope of recovery to many more people. But it’s not foolproof. In clinical trials, the device worked 40 percent of the time. 

The Merci Retriever is made of titanium and nickel and is shaped like a corkscrew. Patients who are treated with the device have a catheter inserted into their groin and up to the blocked artery in the brain, where dye is injected. The dye provides an outline of the blood vessel and shows where the clot is. Surgeons thread the Merci Retriever through the artery to suction out the clot and restore blood flow. 

The procedure generally takes 2 to 3 hours. Recovery can be instantaneous. While patients are still lying on the table, they can often recover their ability to move or speak.

The Food and Drug Administration
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