In 2012, more than 3 million people had stents inserted in their coronary arteries. These tiny mesh tubes prop open blood vessels healing from procedures like a balloon angioplasty, which widens arteries blocked by clots or plaque deposits. After about six months, most damaged arteries are healed and stay open on their own. The stent, however, is there for a lifetime.
Most of the time, that’s not a problem, says Patrick Bowen, a doctoral student studying materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University. The arterial wall heals in around the old stent with no ill effect. But the longer a stent is in the body, the greater the risk of late-stage side effects. For example, a permanent stent can cause intermittent inflammation and clotting at the implant site. In a small percentage of cases, the tiny metal segments that make up the stent can break and end up poking the arterial wall.