No-touch vein grafts and the destiny of venous revascularization in coronary artery bypass grafting—a 25th anniversary perspective
Ischemic heart disease is currently the leading cause of death globally, with coronary artery bypass grafting among the most common operations performed worldwide. More extensive use of arterial grafts has been advocated because of their high long-term patency, long-term survival benefit, and freedom from reinterventions. Despite this, the saphenous vein is the most frequently used conduit in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery since its introduction over 50 years ago. Consequently, the saphenous vein remains an indispensable conduit in coronary artery bypass grafting and maintaining its long-term patency is one of the most crucial challenges in cardiovascular surgery. This situation led to the development of the no-touch saphenous vein harvesting technique, where the vein is harvested completely with its pedicle of surrounding tissue. Several studies report a superior long-term patency rate, slower progression of atherosclerosis, and better clinical outcomes whilst employing no-touch harvesting technique. The success of the technique is multifactorial, including the decreased risk for graft spasm—and the need for manual distension—preservation of the vaso vasorum and an intact endothelium, reducing neointimal hyperplasia and subsequent atherosclerosis. Furthermore, the intact perivascular tissue, including the surrounding cushion of fat, may act as a “natural external stent”, providing mechanical support preventing the graft from kinking. We are convinced that the use of arterial grafts, in combination with the no-touch saphenous vein graft, will significantly improve the results of coronary artery bypass grafting. This is important for achieving a comprehensive and evidence-based balance between the major treatment strategies of ischemic heart disease, explicitly coronary artery bypass grafting and percutaneous coronary intervention. The no-touch technique is becoming increasingly popular among surgeons, with further studies to be initiated worldwide.