Pause a moment to say a silent thank you to the man who transformed difficult heart surgery into something routine, and gave a life-saving invention to millions worldwide suffering from artherosclerosis, or blocked arteries.
Anyone with a family member who’s had heart trouble—or anyone reading this in that condition—will have reason to give thanks to Dr Julio Palmaz, whose invention now resides in the chest of thousands of New Zealanders, all of whom may not be alive otherwise.
A native of Argentina, Dr Palmaz is the inventor of the first commercially successful cardiovascular stent, at least half a dozen of which are installed every day in routine surgery in New Zealand hospitals.
when he heard a presentation by Andreas Gruentzig, the inventor of balloon angioplasty, at a conference in New Orleans. Gruentzig described his process of opening vessels through a catheter, but he also spoke of the procedure’s limitations, and how vessels could still close up afterwards. Palmaz had an idea then to put a scaffold of sorts inside the vessels, to hold them open and keep them from occluding.
Palmaz wrote up his ideas in a paper, and began working on creating prototypes of an implantable stent, using simple materials such as copper wire and a soldering iron. He modeled the mesh for his stent after metal lathe with a structure of staggered openings, a piece of which he just happened to find lying on his garage floor. The design was just what Palmaz had been seeking—something collapsible that would stand up once inserted and remain rigid.
Palmaz succeeded in creating a model that he was able to test in animals, including pigs and rabbits, with promising results; he also began shopping the device around to medical companies, but the response was lukewarm. However, he persevered.
In 1983, Dr Palmaz moved to the US, where, working with partners who provided the necessary capital injection,
He eventually succeeded in creating a prototype of a stainless steel, insertable mesh stent that could be expanded once inside the body to hold a blood vessel or artery open and allow blood to flow more freely.
The Palmaz stent was finally introduced for commercial use in 1991, after the further injection of $100 million of capital by Johnson and Johnson, who bought the patent outright in 1998.
The stents saving lives today are the product of Dr Gruentzig’s first insights, Dr Palmaz’s ingenuity and hard work, the capital injection of his partners, and the further development by Johnson and Johnson—and by competitors eager to gain entry to this new market. Without their ingenuity and hard work, and their capital, many millions of people worldwide would not be enjoying the lives they are today.
For which all of them, I’m sure, would like to join me in saying “Thank you.”
Here is a short video tribute to the great man…
… and here a short interview: