Innovations at University of Minnesota Physicians Heart

At University Of Minnesota Physicians Heart, we thrive on innovation. Our interventional cardiology program has been a national leader in developing many of the advances in the treatment of coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction. In the 1960s, University of Minnesota helped develop coronary angiography to take pictures of the arteries and find blockages in the arteries feeding the heart. This advancement led University of Minnesota surgeons, to develop surgical methods for bypassing the coronary lesions in the coronary arteries.  In the 1980s and 90s, University of Minnesota developed newer, more accurate physiologically based methods, such as fractional flow reserve (FFR) and coronary flow reserve. As a result, our physicians were able to measure which patients would most benefit from surgery or angioplasty. Many people called it a “science project” and didn’t think that it would play a significant role in treating patients. We now know that these advances not only predicted which patients would benefit from revascularization, but most important, they saved lives.

The innovation has continued. When lipid plaques in the coronary artery break open, the artery develops a blood clot that can close the artery completely and result in myocardial infarction.  In that case, there is no time for surgery. The first treatment was to administer thrombolytic drugs to reopen the blocked artery. The problem was that the drugs only worked 60 percent of the time and the artery often reclosed later. In the mid 1980s, physicians at University of Minnesota embarked on one of the first programs to utilize angioplasty for acute infarct thrombosed coronary arteries. This treatment was successful 95 percent of the time.  As a result, we now use stents in angioplasty that saves the lives of patients experiencing heart attacks. 

The innovation has continued. Serious congenital heart defects were a death sentence until the 1950s when C. Walt Lillehei and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota developed open heart surgery to correct the defects. While much of the treatment of congenital heart defects was pioneered at the University of Minnesota, surgeons trained at the University of Minnesota fanned out throughout the world to practice what they learned and made a many of their own innovations.  There are significant challenges with open heart surgery – it is a complicated operation. In the 1980s, physicians at University of Minnesota began to work on heart devices that could be inserted into the heart through a small catheter placed in the leg artery or vein. The first devices, such as the Das Angelwings, were developed to close atrial septal defects, but now are used for ventricular septal defects, perivalvular leaks and many other defects.  These devices have become the standard way of closing heart defects, not just in Minnesota, but all over the world. 

The innovation continues today, including:

  • Finding new ways to image the coronary arteries
  • Developing transcatheter heart valves that can be inserted into the heart through a catheter in the leg
  • Using stem cells to help restore heart function for patients with heart failure  
  • Developing new, and unconventional ways to bring people back to life who suffer sudden cardiac death through the most significant changes to CPR in decades. 

University of Minnesota Physicians Heart is changing medicine through bold initiatives that save lives throughout the world. University of Minnesota Physicians Heart brings the best minds and the best technology to patients. If a treatment or solution is not available, we want to invent it.  If they say that it can’t be done, it becomes our next goal.  We are working for you and your patients because we believe we are Driven to Discover.

If you have any questions or concerns about University of Minnesota Physicians Heart, please contact me anytime.