December 30, 2010

ABC

New innovations to decrease blood pressure

A Bay Area company is hoping to transform the way doctors treat high blood pressure. Instead of medication, they hope to use heat to disable nerve pathways associated with the disease.

Nearly one out of three American adults suffer from high blood pressure, according to government statistics and for more than half the patients under treatment, medications have not controlled the condition.

Now, a Mountain View-based company called Ardian believes it can change that.

"We have a single procedure where you go to the hospital, we treat you with catheter treatments, and we hope one treatment will last a lifetime," Ardian CEO Andrew Cleeland said.

The catheter that Ardian has developed uses radio frequency or "RF" to disable specific nerves. The process is similar to cardiac ablation, where RF energy is used to interrupt nerve pathways responsible for causing irregular heartbeats.

But, the target of the Aridan catheter isn't the heart, but neural pathways leading to the kidneys. Researchers believe when those pathways become over-active, they cause the kidneys to retain salt and also release hormones and enzymes that can increase blood pressure.

"We learned very quickly that the nerves were residing within the vessel wall itself. Only a few millimeters away from the artery that feeds the kidney. That's when the light bulb went off," Research Director Denise Zarins said.

Zarins says the RF waves produce heat in the surrounding tissue, interrupting the over stimulate neural pathway. In a study published in the Journal Lancet, a single RF treatment resulted in at least 6 percent decrease in blood pressure in a majority of patients and companion studies showed results lasting for a full two years.

Cleeland is hopeful the technology will produce a permanent treatment for high blood pressure.

"I think that's a big word cure. That's the dream for us. We think we have something fundamental and we have our work cut out for us," he said.

Ardian is currently in talks with the FDA about bringing the catheter technology to market and in the meantime, the company itself was recently purchased by medical device giant, Medtronic.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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