The beating of the heart signifies life from death. It is indeed, the most vital organ in our body. One of the most common ‘serious heart problems’ that affects us is Atrial fibrillation (AF). Europe and North America have seen an increase in the percent of people suffering from this ailment, rising from less than 1% in 2005 to 2-3% at present. In most western countries, its prevalence is cited as an important public health problem and a significant cause of increasing health care costs. Usually treated with anti-arrhythmic drugs and cardioversion, surgical procedures such as ablation have garnered attention in the recent times as an effective method to reduce recurrence of the disease. The leading AF therapy provider in the United States, Boston Scientific Corporation, has recently acquired Cryterion Medical, Inc. in an attempt to include the latter’s single-shot cryoablation platform in their portfolio of ablation based treatment.
So what exactly is AF? In simple terms, it’s an abnormal rhythm of the heart characterized by rapid and irregular beating of the atria. It can be classified based on its recurrence. Paroxysmal AF stops on its own in less than a week, and symptoms may include minor discomforts from heart palpitations to chest pain. Permanent AF signifies ongoing long-term episodes, and is associated with an increased risk of heart failure, dementia, and even stroke. Age significantly amplifies the chances of getting AF, due to natural weakening of the heart, high blood pressure, and previous heart surgeries. Obesity and genetic susceptibility are also responsible for AF.
Various methods are available in medical sciences for treating AF. On broad terms, they either slow the heart rate down (rate control) or convert the abnormal rhythm to normal sinus rhythm (rhythm control). Rate control is usually achieved by anti-arrhythmic medications, such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers. Electrical cardioversion (EC) is a prevalent example of rhythm control, as it attempts to restore normal heart rhythm through the application of electrical shocks. While the side effects of persistently using beta blockers may result in other physical detriments, EC is considered to be risky as a result of electrical signals involved and is only used in emergency situations.
More recently, surgical procedures like ablation have gained prominence for treating AF, as it significantly decreases the chances of recurrence of the disease. Ablation delivers energy to affected sections of the heart muscles, which eventually isolate and remove certain pulmonary veins responsible for causing AF. They are usually classified based on the source of energy, which includes heating by radiofrequency ablation and cooling by cryoablation.
In the United States, Boston Scientific Corporation is one of the leading radiofrequency ablation therapy providers. On 5th July, in an attempt to include more ablation based treatments for AF under its envelope, the Massachusetts-based company agreed to acquire Cryterion Medical, Inc., a California-based private medical research firm. Since its inception in 2006, Cryterion has focused on developing a single-shot cryoablation platform for the treatment of AF. The platform incorporates advanced balloon catheters, advanced mapping catheters, steerable sheath, and an enhanced console to interrupt the irregular electrical signals that cause AF. As Boston Scientific already owned 35% of Cryterion’s shares, the former acquired the remaining stakes for a mammoth $202 million. This acquisition has positioned the company as the first to have both radiofrequency and cryothermal ablation therapies under its belt.
While clinical trials pursuing the effectiveness of cryoablation technique is underway in Europe, Boston Scientific plans to pursue regulatory approval in the United States. With patient enrollment expected to begin in 2019, single-shot cryoablation platform promises to be the cutting edge technique that can aid the 5 million Americans suffering from AF.