Researchers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory have received national recognition for developing a new metal alloy that has dramatically improved coronary stents used in patients with heart problems. Coronary stents made from the award-winning platinum-chromium (PtCr) alloy are more flexible and conformable than traditional stents. The improved stents are manufactured by Boston Scientific. | Photo courtesy of Boston Scientific Corporation.

For their work developing a new metal alloy that has dramatically improved coronary stents used in patients with heart problems, three scientists at the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) are set to receive the Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer.  

The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer award goes to NETL’s Paul Turner, Paul Jablonski, and Edward Argetsinger for their success in moving their technology beyond the labs into the vast medical device market.

Though the path to wide-scale commercialization is fraught with technology and market challenges, the stent developed by the honored NETL team has seen great commercial success. Since hitting the market, global sales of the innovative device have exceeded $1 billion -- representing a 45 percent share of the coronary stent market.

A decade ago, scientists at Boston Scientific requested the laboratory’s help with research to improve the 316L stainless steel traditionally used in coronary stents. With their knowledge of metallurgy and materials in fossil energy systems, the NETL team helped develop an innovative type of stainless steel, one that contains a significant amount of platinum.  

The platinum-chromium alloy has some unique properties that makes it perfect for a coronary stent. The platinum makes it easier for doctors to see the stent on an x-ray and when inserting the stents in patients. This reduces the risk of damage to the patient’s arteries during placement, especially when multiple stents are required. It also helps doctors to diagnose conditions more accurately and determine the best medical treatment during routine or emergency examinations.  

In addition, the platinum also makes the stent more resistant to corrosion, which helps the stent last longer. The new alloy’s strength also reduces recoil, which means the stent is less likely to constrict once it’s placed in a patient. Finally, the new stent’s relative thinness makes it easier to thread through or safely place in areas where an artery bends, which are usually more difficult to navigate during the insertion process.

Sales are expected to continue to increase as cardiovascular surgeons learn more how to further leverage these unique metallurgical properties. Boston Scientific has also announced that all future coronary stents are to be made of the new alloy.

NETL’s materials sciences research team has conducted a wide variety of work in high-temperature alloy development and processing. NETL’s materials research includes making more effective armor for the Army, new turbine alloys to help the nation’s power systems operate more efficiently, and now a medical alloy that helps save lives.