Useful, but barbaric. That’s how San Leandro, CA-based EndoBionics’ CEO Lynn Barr describes balloon angioplasty-the use of a balloon-tipped catheter to open clogged arteries. The procedure itself causes artery-narrowing scarring in about 20 percent of the roughly 600,000 people in the U.S. who undergo it each year. To stop this scarring, mechanical engineer and EndoBionics founder Kirk Seward created a retractable polymer sheath for a steel needle one millimeter long and roughly the diameter of two hairs. After an angioplasty, a surgeon could guide the sheathed needle through an artery in the patient’s leg or neck to the coronary artery. Once the device was in place, a microscale hydraulic system would allow the surgeon to retract the sheath while simultaneously pushing the needle into the artery wall. This way, the device could inject a tiny amount of a blockage-preventing drug directly into the site where scarring and blockage could occur. The technique would deliver the drug much further into the artery walls than other methods being developed for this purpose, Barr says. EndoBionics plans to partner with a yet unnamed medical device company to bring the technology to market in late 2004. Eventually, Barr says, the microneedle could be used to deliver tumor-killing drugs or genes to the brain.