Ohio University

Russ Prize recipient, stent inventor shares story behind the story during Engineers Week lecture

Russ Prize recipient, stent inventor shares story behind the story during Engineers Week lecture

Leading cardiologist Richard Schatz, one of five recipients of the 2019 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, shared the highs and lows of creating the life-changing cardiovascular stent Thursday as part of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology’s Stocker Lecture Series.

On Thursday, Schatz enlightened listeners with his lecture on how he came to be, along with anecdotes on how he met his partner, the highs and lows of creating the life-changing device and dealing with those who rejected their ideas.

The National Academy of Engineering and Ohio University awarded Schatz and the other recipients last February with the 2019 Russ Prize – the largest bioengineering prize in the world – for innovations in coronary angioplasty, enabling minimally invasive treatment of heart disease.

Schatz, who is research director of cardiovascular interventions at the Scripps Heart, Lung, and Vascular Center, is a recognized international expert in interventional cardiology. His seminal work in coronary stents spurred a revolution in the treatment of coronary artery disease – more than 2 million of them are placed annually worldwide.

Schatz detailed how he met collaborator Julio Palmaz, another one of the 2019 recipients, through a variety of coincidences. Because Palmaz had no commercial interest in marketing the stent he developed, he had never filed a patent. The two narrowly met the one-year deadline for filing their patent in 1985.

They sought funding for their inventions amidst concerns about blood clots, infection, erosion and more. Schatz shared how the skepticism was so strong that they almost resorted to giving away their patents for free. But in 1986, Johnson and Johnson jumped on board.

“What I learned is that new ideas are very hard to promote,” Schatz said. “We were taking on the medical device industry, we were taking on the FDA, and the entire world of cardiology—which is totally resistant to permanent implants in the heart.”

Schatz emphasized the importance of building off of one another’s skills when collaborating. A physician, not an engineer, he was able to combine his medical knowledge with his team’s engineering background to generate a relevant and useful device that has saved millions of lives. The Palmaz-Schatz stent was eventually named, in 1998, one of the top 10 medical inventions of the century.

Senior industrial and systems engineering student Katherine Orta responded to Schatz’s innovation and courage.

“The fact he took an idea and ran with it, and now sees it applied in the real world is really inspiring,” said Orta. “It was interesting to see the implications of something in an area other than engineering.”

Schatz also reflected on notable moments throughout his career – such as when Mother Theresa received a stent, and some of his team members got to meet the Pope.

“Don’t be afraid to dream,” he said. “Don’t ever let someone tell you it won’t work. You all are so smart – you should be able to come up with ideas like this every day. If you see a sliding door in front of you, go ahead, and go right through it.”

Watch Schatz’s lecture at this link.