October 11, 2002
The blockage of coronary arteries is occurring with greater frequency owing to our population that is aging, becoming more sedentary and eating foods that increase blood factors causing cholesterol plaque deposits to form onto the arterial walls. Coronary artery blockages (called stenoses) can result in angina and/or heart attacks that can be debilitating or even fatal. A frequent treatment for such blockages is coronary bypass surgery which, though effective, can be dangerous, arduous for the patient and comparatively expensive. For the last 20 years, many new, non-surgical techniques have been tried to open blocked arteries. These include the mechanical excision of the plaque, melting the plaque by heating or more recently using a balloon to open a stenosis by mechanical pressure which is called balloon angioplasty. Starting in the last decade of the 1900s, tiny, cylindrical, mesh type devices called stents were first employed to act as a scaffold to keep arteries open after balloon angioplasty. Although the 6 month failure rate of the stents is now approximately 30%, it is much better than the 55% failure rate of balloon angioplasty. A major breakthrough since the start of this century are stents coated with a drug called sirolimus that has been shown in most cases to eliminate virtually all failures when opening an arterial stenosis. The possibility now exists that most coronary bypass surgery procedures can be eliminated by a simple, single day in the hospital procedure that places one or more stents at those sites where there is blockage of the coronary artery.
Dr. Robert Fischell received his B.S. in mechanical engineering Cum Laude from Duke University in 1951 and an M.S. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1953. In 1996 he received an honorary Sc.D. degree from the University of Maryland in recognition of his many contributions in several scientific fields. From 1951-56, he worked as a physicist at the US Naval Ordnance Laboratory, White Oak, Md. in the field of magnetic materials. After 3 years in private industry, he came to APL as a Senior Staff Physicist in 1959. At APL he was promoted to Principal Staff in 1963 and also had the positions in the Space Department of Group Supervisor, Chief Engineer and Director of Technology Transfer. While at APL, he received 3 awards from Industrial Research Magazine for one of the 100 best inventions of the years 1967, 1970 and 1973. He received an Exceptional Engineering Award from NASA in 1980 and 1984, the Individual Achievement Award in 1982, and the Congressional Space Act Medal in 1984. That year, he also received the USA Inventor of the Year award for his invention of the artificial insulin pancreas. In 1987 he received the New York Academy of Sciences Gold Medal for his contributions to Aerospace Science and Technology. In 1989 he became the first APLer to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering where he served on many review committees in support of national interests. He has held faculty appointments in medicine at both the Johns Hopkins and the Yale University Schools of Medicine and is a Trustee of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation and a Director of the University System of Maryland. He left APL in 1986 and has pursued a career as an inventor of medical devices and is Chairman and/or President of Cathco Inc., MedIn Tec Inc., Angel Medical Systems, Inc., IsoStent, Inc. and NueraLieve, Inc. which are all medical device companies based on one or more of the 100 medical device patents that have issued to him. In the year 2002, about one million coronary stents of the design that he invented will be implanted in the hearts of patients in more than 50 countries.