WASHINGTON - Thousands of older Americans who need new heart valves but are too frail to survive the surgery might soon get a chance at an easier option - a way to thread in an artificial aortic valve without cracking their chests.

The aortic valve is the heart's main doorway, and a major new study found that snaking a new one in through an artery significantly improved the chances that patients with no other treatment options would survive at least a year.

Not known is whether easier-to-implant valves might work for the less sick who'd like to try the new technology rather than undergo open-heart surgery for standard valve replacements that can last 20 years.

That question still is being studied, but two competing types of these "transcatheter aortic valves" already are sold in Europe - and manufacturer Edwards Lifesciences Corp. hopes to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to sell its version for inoperable patients in about a year.

"This opens the door to a new treatment," said Dr. Martin Leon of Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He led the Edwards-funded study, reporting the results in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine and at the annual Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics conference. - AP

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