Brisbane hospital joins global heart trial

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Greenslopes Private Hospital is the first in the southern hemisphere to use a new heart device which aims to cut stroke risk, as part of a new international clinical trial.

The trial is investigating whether the tiny implantable plug is a viable alternative to blood-thinning drugs, which are the traditional post-surgery treatment for heart patients.

Blood thinners such as Warfarin help prevent harmful clots from travelling through an artery to the brain and causing a stroke, but two percent of patients experience bleeding complications and some cannot take the medication.

“The blood-thinning treatment is life-long; unfortunately the risk of bleeding gets higher as the patients age,” Greenslopes Private Hospital cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist Dr Karen Phillips said.

The Brisbane-based facility is one of two in Australia taking part in the 18-month global OPTION trial, which runs until 2021 and aims to recruit 1,600 patients.

Greenslopes has already enrolled over a dozen patients and performed its first procedures implanting the WATCHMAN FLX device, which Dr Phillips described as “a tiny plug that sits inside the heart and seals off where the blood clots potentially form”.

“We’re the first in the southern hemisphere using this particular atrial fibrillation device, which is a big feather in our cap.

“At the moment the treatment is reactive – you wait until someone bleeds from the blood-thinning medication before offering the alternative treatment. This trial gives us an opportunity to perform both procedures at once,” Dr Phillips said.

The trial is for cardiac patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation who undergo an ablation procedure to treat the poor bloodflow, shortness of breath, fatigue and stroke-risk caused by this type of abnormal heart rhythm.

Half the trial patients will be asked to take blood thinners and the other half will have a new iteration of the device, which closes the left atrial appendage of the heart. It is currently only available in Australia to people who cannot take blood-thinning medication.

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