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Heart surgery without stitches

The new technique could cut operation time from five hours to two

(Keystone Archive)

A team of Swiss surgeons has performed a revolutionary new technique in open-heart surgery which eliminates the use of stitches. The technique has been described as one of the most significant developments in cardiac surgery in the past 30 years.

The coronary-artery connector system allows surgeons to join the heart's blood vessels without the need for stitches. The system not only reduces the time required for surgery but also guarantees that every connection is similar and of the same quality.

Professor Thierry Carrel of the university hospital in Bern and his team implanted the device in the first patient last year. They believe it could transform bypass surgery and cut operating time from up to five hours to less than two.

"It is a very important development for vascular and cardiac surgery," said Carrel. "For the first time, we have the ability to connect vessels in the heart without hand-suturing techniques."

Carrel and his team used the device in a 61-year-old angina patient to join a coronary artery and a vein graft to bypass blocked blood vessels.

Since the November operation, they have used the connector in similar operations on 10 other patients.

"With this technique, you can make a connection within two or three minutes and every connection is the same," said Carrel. "It is a small ring of stainless steel which puts the vessels together and holds them in place. It's really phenomenal. You don't have a drop of blood coming out."

The connector is used during open-heart surgery but Carrel believes that in the future surgeons will be able to implant it during keyhole surgery, which will reduce operating and recovery times.

He predicted that once surgeons learned the technique, which he said was not difficult, it would be possible to do every bypass with it.

The system was developed in the United States by the St Jude Medical Anastomotic Technology Group in Minneapolis.

Coronary heart disease is a leading killer in most industrialised countries. Smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors.

swissinfo with agencies


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