As the director of the Research in Interventional Cardiology unit at Stony Brook Medical School, Luis Gruberg does more than 400 procedures a year in which he rebuilds the collapsing or blocked walls that provide blood to the heart.
The professor in the Department of Medicine is screening for as many as 40 candidates who might benefit from a new stent, a device made by a unit of Abbott Laboratories that will open artery walls and, after two years, will dissolve.
“This is a unique new type of stent that is made out of a type of sugar that will be reabsorbed into the body,” Gruberg said. “It will serve as a scaffold” for the heart and will prevent the arteries from “renarrowing or closing.”
The stent, called Absorb, is made of polylactide, which includes corn starch or sugar cane and is commonly used in dissolvable sutures, screws and pins.
Currently, patients who need a stent typically receive one that is made out of metal, Gruberg said. While those stents are durable and are considered safe and reliable, they remain in the body, which may not enable a restoration of the blood vessel function. During the trial, Gruberg will monitor vasomotion, a measure of how much natural motion returns to the blood vessel.
“If the clinical trial proves to show this is as good as or better than the metal stent used today, this will be a significant step forward,” he said. This new stent has a drug coating that prevents an immediate renarrowing of the artery by scar tissue. Stents are often used to treat coronary artery disease, which is the most common type of heart disease. Gruberg, who has been at Stony Brook for seven years, said he has been involved in numerous studies of other novel therapies or approaches to medical care. He participated in the Plato study that led to the approval of ticagrelor. He also contributed to the Champion studies with cangrelor that is being considered at the Food and Drug Administration for approval. These drugs are used in patients that undergo coronary artery interventions.
“When you use these medications or devices, you don’t know” exactly how well they’ll work, he said. “Patients trust you. [The studies] try to improve our medical knowledge. We don’t know until the study comes out.”
William Lawson, the acting chairman of the division of cardiovascular medicine and Gruberg’s supervisor, said it “benefits the university, cardiology and the heart institute to have someone so engaged and productive.”
Lawson described Gruberg’s research as cutting edge and suggested it would “advance what we do clinically in the next couple of years.” Lawson was especially impressed with Gruberg’s ability to engage high school students, medical students and residents, which he said would help develop the next generation of people going into medicine. A native of Bolivia, Gruberg has worked at institutions with strong research programs, including Washington Hospital Center and Rambaum Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.
Gruberg started the Research in Interventional Cardiology unit at Stony Brook when he arrived in August, 2006. He is pleased with the progress of a group that currently has 10 active trials. Stony Brook has been “very successful in establishing a research program,” he said. “We have nothing to envy to those major institutions. We’ve established ourselves in the field.”
Lawson, who has known Gruberg for over five years, said Gruberg’s work has helped accomplish what he set out to do when he arrived, by participating in so many clinical trials and advancing cardiac technology.
Indeed, Gruberg said Stony Brook has conducted more than 70 studies in interventional cardiology. “Since I came here, I’ve been a part of these amazing studies,” he said. “That’s just the proof that Stony Brook is out there, doing great research and trying to help patients.”
Gruberg and his wife Rakefet, whom he met in Israel, live in Setauket. Their older son, Barr, graduated from Ward Melville and is attending Geneseo, while Jonathan is in ninth grade at Gelinas Junior High School.
In his personal decisions, Gruberg said he tries to promote what he tells his patients. “I exercise and try to eat healthy and don’t smoke,” he said. “I try to lead by example.”