Julio Cesar Palmaz, Hispanic Heritage Month Honoree

By Allan Jamail

September 26, 2023 ~ It’s not every day I can contribute an article about someone who is responsible for saving millions of lives and has over 60 patents.

Born Julio Cesar Palmaz on December 13, 1945 in the Hispanic country of Argentina, he became a doctor at the National University of La Plata, earning his medical degree in 1971. He then practiced vascular radiology at San Martin University. He joined the University Of Texas Health Sciences Department Of Radiology in 1983 as chief of angiography and special procedures of vascular radiology at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Palmaz invented the first FDA-approved balloon-expandable vascular stent (1990) at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and scientific advisor of Vactronix Scientific. The Palmaz stent is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington.

He succeeded in creating a his first prototype model that he was able to test in animals, including pigs and rabbits, with promising results; he also began shopping the device around to medical companies, but the response was lukewarm.

In 1983, Dr. Stewart Reuter, Chair of Radiology at UTHSCSA and a mentor to Palmaz, encouraged him to accept a position at the Center. Palmaz did so, in part because there he would have access to resources he needed to further his stent development. He eventually succeeded in creating a second prototype of a stainless steel, insertable mesh stent that could be expanded once inside the body to hold a blood vessel or artery open and allow blood to flow more freely.

He also secured funding from a somewhat unlikely partner: Phil Romano, an entrepreneur who founded restaurant chains such as Fuddruckers and The Macaroni Grill, offered to put up $250,000 in exchange for a stake in the product, which Palmaz began co-developing with Dr. Richard Schatz, a cardiologist at Brooke Army Medical Center.

The trio, calling themselves the Expandable Graft Partnership, patented the stent technology in 1985 and presented it to a variety of large companies. Those firms included Boston Scientific, which passed on the technology; and Johnson & Johnson, which eventually licensed the stent technology for some $10 million plus royalties. With Johnson & Johnson behind it, and with an additional $100 million invested in its development, the Palmaz stent was approved for use in peripheral arteries in 1991, followed by approval for use in coronary arteries in 1994; Johnson & Johnson quickly captured 90 percent of the market for stents and bought the patent outright from Palmaz, Schatz and Romano in 1998.

Within four years of its FDA approval in 1990, the balloon-expandable stent was used in over 80% of percutaneous coronary interventions, a virtually unparalleled success. Currently approximately one million stents are implanted annually worldwide. The balloon angioplasty augmented with the use of the stent has become the preferred treatment for atherosclerosis.

Dr. Palmaz was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2006) and National Academy of Inventors (2013) and selected for the Gold medal  of the Society of Interventional Radiology (2007). He is a Distinguished Scientist and fellow of the American Heart Association and fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and Society of Interventional Radiology.

Palmaz is married to fellow Argentine Amalia Palmaz and has two children, Florencia and Christian. He lives in San Antonio and Napa.