Treatment boost for heart and stroke patients

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am


Advanced techniques used at Chinese University clinics are giving new hope to heart and stroke patients.

Pacemakers are not always effective for some patients suffering from heart failure so university cardiologists have been using a more advanced device, developed overseas, that sends electrical impulses to enhance the contracting muscles of the heart.

The device - known as cardiac contractility modulation (CCM) - can be implanted in the chest with a non-invasive procedure. The technology is relatively new and was only introduced to Asia in 2005 at the university.

University doctors have also been working on a treatment for acute stroke that accounts for 13,000 hospital patients a year. Doctors have pioneered research into thousands of stroke patients who suffered from narrowed vessels in the neck since 2006 and started using 'stenting' to treat them. This involves inserting a tube to treat the narrowed arteries.

As a result, 215 patients have undergone stenting of the neck vessels to prevent stroke. Technical success was achieved in patients with a complication rate of just 1.86 per cent - low compared to the usual standard of 6 per cent worldwide.

One problem with CCM treatment is that the cost is prohibitive for many patients, as the Hospital Authority does not cover it.

'The cost of HK$250,000 is still relatively high and at the moment CCM treatment does not receive a government subsidy,' said Professor Yu Cheuk-man, principal investigator and chairman of the university's department of medicine and therapeutics.

'Some people will benefit more from the treatment than others but we cannot predict this.'

Yu said since 2005 only 38 people had received the CCM therapy.

A pacemaker works to induce artificial pacing, but CCM delivers intermittent electrical impulses to the ventricle for about five hours a day. This increases the contractibility of the heart muscle and boosts the overall effectiveness of the heart.

In 2009, Chung Chun-wo became one of more than 18,000 people that are admitted to hospital every year for heart failure in Hong Kong. After a pacemaker failed to correct his symptoms, Chung decided to undergo the new procedure. In his case, it was effective.

Chung said if CCM works, it needs very few hospital visits. 'Before when I was taking medication for my heart failure I had to go to a hospital once a week. Now I only go rarely for follow-up consultations,' he said.

The reason for this low maintenance is that a battery inside the implanted CCM device can be recharged by a patient at home by placing a portable charger over the chest for about two hours each week.

Costly procedure

A new device for heart patients costs HK$150,000. Since 2005, only this many patients have received the treatment: 38