Abbott Laboratories is betting heart patients will benefit from a new type of arterial stent that dissolves away when it is no longer needed, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Stents are scaffold-like devices used to prop open clogged heart arteries. Most stents are made of metal. But Abbott's new device, called Absorb, is made from a plastic-like material called polylactide that is commonly used in surgical sutures. The Absorb scaffold -- Abbott does not call it a stent -- is designed to completely fade away in two years and to cease supporting arteries at six months.

Abbott won European regulatory approval for Absorb this year, but the company plans only limited marketing there until it gathers more supporting medical evidence next year. The company does not expect to file an application seeking US regulatory approval until 2015.

"I think it's a pretty smart idea," said Nick Ruggiero, a cardiologist with the Jefferson Heart Institute in Philadelphia who has no financial connection to Abbott.

Abbott must still convince doctors, used to inserting permanent stents, to consider a dissolvable alternative. But if Abbott delivers evidence to bolster the concept, it will have unique technology and a years-long lead on competitors.

Abbott expects to charge more for the Absorb device than the permanent, medicated stents currently available, which cost around $1,500 to $2,000.

The global drug-coated stent market is worth about $4 billion. Abbott's top competitors include Boston Scientific Corp. and Medtronic Inc.

Clinical-study data have shown low rates of complications with Absorb, although it has been tested in a limited number of patients thus far. Abbott expects to release one-year data on 101 patients at a medical conference next month, and hopes to launch randomized trials this year.

Stents are inserted into arteries where they are expanded with balloons. Newer versions, including Absorb, use medication to slow tissue growth that could prompt additional procedures. Today's top-selling stents, including Abbott's market-leading Xience devices, are made of metal.

Arteries need only temporary support to relieve a plaque-based clog, Abbott says. But today's stents stick around for life, which raises challenges. Arteries with metal cages in them are not flexible and do not expand during exercise, says Richard Rapoza, head of research and development for Abbot's Absorb program. Stents can also make future bypass surgery trickier, among other potential complications.

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