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08 Sep 2017

Researchers at The University of Western Australia (UWA) have taken a step forward in the fight against high blood pressure, after the first human trials of a ground-breaking treatment produced successful results at Royal Perth Hospital.

The cutting-edge procedure targets carotid bodies, the tiny organs found on either side of the neck, which regulate the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

The procedure guides a catheter through the femoral vein in the groin up to the neck and ends adjacent to the carotid body. The device then specifically targets the organ with short ultrasound energy pulses, rendering it ineffective.

Exposing a carotid body to ultrasound could permanently lower blood pressure in patients who failed to respond to medication or lifestyle changes, the research has shown.

“We know that patients with uncontrollable high blood pressure will often have an overactive carotid body, so we’re looking to silence it or at least reduce its activity,” said Professor Markus Schlaich, a team leader in the research at UWA.

Professor Schlaich said the therapeutic ultrasound can emit waves of energy that travel through tissue and target the organ of interest.

Cardiovascular disease is an enormous burden on health and society, with more than 30 per cent of Australians affected by high blood pressure and more than 8.5 million deaths each year worldwide, directly attributable to uncontrolled blood pressure.

One of the participants in the study was 78-year-old patient Agnes Johnson, who suffered from high blood pressure for 30 years and was the first person in Australia to undergo the procedure in 2016.

After the treatment, Mrs Johnson said her blood pressure dropped from 220 over 90 to a more manageable 140 over 80 mmHg.

“The medications I tried kept making me sick so having this done was of huge benefit to me. The procedure was fine, I had no side effects and now I feel much better,” she said.

Professor Schlaich said the world-first catheter based approach had been performed on 29 patients in Australia and Europe and he hopes to have the procedure readily available around the world in three to four years.

“There is clear evidence to demonstrate that if you manage to reduce blood pressure you can dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke,” he said.

The researchers point out that this approach won’t be used for everyone with hypertension but it could be a great approach for those patients whose blood pressure cannot be controlled with medication or lifestyle changes.

The Australian Stroke Foundation warns that high blood pressure can have many harmful effects which can eventually lead to a stroke; can speed up common forms of heart disease that can lead to stroke; and can cause blood clots or plaque (cholesterol and other fat-like substances) to break off artery walls and block a brain artery causing a stroke.

MEREDITH HORNE


Published: 08 Sep 2017