The cutting-edge procedure targets the carotid body – a tiny organ the size of a grain of rice that’s found on either side of the neck and regulates our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The procedure guides a catheter through the femoral vein in the groin up to the neck and ends adjacent to the carotid body. The device then specifically targets the organ with short ultrasound energy pulses, rendering it ineffective. Professor Schlaich said exposing a carotid body to ultrasound could permanently lower blood pressure in patients who fail to respond to a combination of various medications or lifestyle changes.
“We know that patients with uncontrollable high blood pressure will often have an overactive carotid body, so we’re looking to silence it or at least reduce its activity,” he said. “The therapeutic ultrasound can emit waves of energy that travel through tissue and target the organ of interest.” Cardiovascular disease is an enormous burden on the health system and society at large. More than 30 per cent of adult Australians are affected by high blood pressure and around 10 million deaths each year worldwide are directly attributable to uncontrolled blood pressure.
Patient Agnes Johnson, who features in our video, suffered from high blood pressure for 30 years and was the first person in Australia to undergo the procedure in 2016. After the treatment, Mrs Johnson said her blood pressure dropped from 220 over 90 to a more manageable 140 over 80 mmHg.
“The medications I tried kept making me sick, so having this done was of huge benefit to me. The procedure was fine, I had no side effects and now I feel much better,” she said.
Professor Schlaich said the world-first, catheterbased approach has been performed on 39 patients in Australia and Europe, and he hopes to have the procedure readily available around the world in about two to three years.
“There is clear evidence to demonstrate that if you manage to reduce blood pressure, you can dramatically reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes,” he said. “This approach won’t be used for everyone with hypertension, but it could be a great approach for those patients whose blood pressure cannot be controlled with medication or lifestyle changes.”