Atherosclerosis begins with injuries to the lining of the arteries. The cause may be high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, or other factors. Once an area has been damaged, lipids from the blood, including cholesterol, accumulate, building up a thick, fatty patch that is called plaque.

Two types of blood cells contribute to the buildup of plaque

buildup-of-plaqueMacrophages, which are large white blood cells, and platelets, the small blood cells that assist in the coagulation of blood. The macrophages fill up with cholesterol, which accumulates between the macrophages as well, leading to narrowed arteries.

Plaque narrows the artery. This narrowing hinders the flow of blood. A clot may detach itself from the site and move toward the heart or into a small artery, blocking it. An obstruction inside the coronary artery causes angina or heart attack. Blockage in an artery leading to the brain brings on stroke.

This new medical tool for treating atherosclerosis, a zapper for clogged arteries, is an experimental device, which was inspired by the movie Star Wars and invented by a cardiologist. Attached to a catheter, the laser scope is carefully inserted by the surgeon into the damaged artery, where it aims its beam on the fatty buildup that is obstructing circulation of blood. The beam vaporizes the fat. Just before the laser is fired, a balloon behind it inflates to stop the blood flow momentarily, thereby clearing a path for the beam and preventing damage to blood cells.

Laserscope has three channels

one is a conduit for the laser beam; the second is for optical fibers that permit viewing of the artery; the third is for a vacuum device that is designed to sweep up particles left behind after the firing.