Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Evening Edition

San Diego Clinical Trial Seeks Patients For Drug Resistant Hypertension

New Procedure Lowers Blood Pressure Without Medication

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one in four American adults have hypertension-- or high blood pressure. They report one in 10 of those with hypertension do not respond to medication therapy.

High blood pressure is called the silent killer, because it typically has no symptoms, and if left untreated it can lead to a heart attack, stroke and other life-threatening problems.

That's why Scripps Clinic in La Jolla is participating in a clinical trial on a minimally invasive procedure that jolts the kidneys into controlling high-blood pressure.


At age 81, Vivian Chandler hopes participate in the clinical trial at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla. She looks fit, but works out three times a week at the hospital’s cardiac gym in hopes of lowering her dangerously high pressure that often rises to 230/140.

Normal blood pressure is 120/80.

“The first thing I do when I come in the door is to have my blood pressure taken, then at the very end of my two hour workout I have it taken again, its usually a little lower by then,” said Chandler.

Chandler takes a dozen or more pills a day, but she said “none of them really lower my blood pressure much.”

That’s just the kind of patient who would qualify in the study called renal denervation, explained Paul Teirstein, MD, Chief of Cardiology at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla.


“We consider hypertension resistant to pharmaceutical treatment, if the patient is taking three or more drugs that aren’t working,” said Teirstein.

The renal denervation procedure bypasses medication all together. It aims to treat resistant hypertension by calming nerves in the kidneys.

The nearly one-hour procedure is a lot like a catheter procedure to unblock arteries in the heart.

Only it uses a small flexible tube thread from the groin into the kidneys arteries. The inserted device called Symplicity heats up to slightly burn and disrupt nerve signals thought to be responsible for escalating blood pressure

“We're finding we can lower the blood pressure on average of 30 points-it's a huge impact from a single procedure,” said Teirstein.

And he said clinical trials in other countries did reveal any significant side effects.

The kidney is considered the key organ in blood pressure regulation, said Andrew King, MD, Chief Of Nephrology at Scripps Clinic.

“The kidneys play a central role in the control of blood pressure. In part because it controls salt and water volume, also because it produces hormones that control blood pressure, and because it signals to the brain to increase blood pressure in the rest of the body,” explained King.

Chandler won’t know for awhile if she made it into the study, but said lowering her blood pressure is just one more step in reaching her ultimate goal of a long and healthy life.

“I'm trying to shoot for 120 years old, from age 81 to 120 that's my goal” she exclaimed while still pedaling on a stationary bike.

Medtronic makes the Symplicity Device and is paying for the clinical study at Scripps Health.

The renal denervation procedure will be free to all study participants.

Corrected: July 13, 2024 at 6:15 AM PDT
Video by Katie Euphrat