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Foam tech from LLNL makes life-saving embolization more comfortable

State: California

Region: Far West

Agency: Dept. of Energy

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

A patient-friendly method of treating unhealthy blood vessels, invented at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), has now been used in more than 1,500 people. 

Healthy blood flow is essential for the human body. Without it, diseased blood vessels can create a number of health problems. The IMPEDE® Embolization Plug, developed by LLNL and Texas A&M University, is inserted inside an unhealthy blood vessel to redirect blood flow to healthy vessels—a surgical process called embolization. 

Embolization is necessary when a blood vessel is unhealthy, or if the blood is being carried toward a growth or abnormality. Surgeons insert a plug to block the blood from flowing to diseased areas and keep it flowing through healthy vessels. 

Common embolization methods involve inserting a small device made of metal, which does not easily take on the shape of the target blood vessel. These devices can be uncomfortable for the patient and can potentially tear the blood vessel.  

The IMPEDE device is made of memory foam material that is flexible and forms easily to the shape of a vessel when it is inserted, making the procedure more comfortable for the patient. Because the plug fits well within the blood vessel and the material is absorbed by the body over time, tears are much less likely than with the metal alternatives. The design of the IMPEDE plug also improves healing after the surgery.

LLNL’s 25 years of research on the material led to the formation in 2009 of a California-based company called Shape Memory Medical, which made the technology available to the public. The FDA approved the device for use in the US in 2018.  

The IMPEDE plug has been used in the US, Europe and Japan. In August 2022, Shape Memory Medical announced that 1,500 patients had been treated with the plug. The 1,500th patient was treated at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine with a procedure that was the first to use shape memory foam in the internal iliac artery, the main delivery route for blood flow to the lower extremities.

The company is now considering corporate licensing partnerships that might generate new applications involving aortic therapies and biopsies, among others.

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