Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Case report
The balloon anchor technique: a novel technique for distal access through a giant aneurysm
  1. Kenneth V Snyder1,2,3,
  2. Sabareesh K Natarajan1,2,3,
  3. Erik F Hauck1,2,3,
  4. J Mocco4,
  5. Adnan H Siddiqui1,2,3,5,
  6. L Nelson Hopkins1,2,3,5,
  7. Elad I Levy1,2,3,5
  1. 1Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, USA
  2. 2Toshiba Stroke Research Center, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, USA
  3. 3Department of Neurosurgery, Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital, Kaleida Health, Buffalo, New York, USA
  4. 4Department of Neurosurgery, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA
  5. 5Department of Radiology, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr E I Levy, University at Buffalo Neurosurgery, 3 Gates Circle, Buffalo, NY 14209, USA; elevy{at}


A novel technique is reported that helps the operator in achieving reliable access to the distal parent vessel with a microcatheter for stent assisted aneurysm coiling. Distal parent vessel access was obtained by allowing the microwire to follow the local hemodynamics into a giant internal carotid artery aneurysm and around its dome. Various traditional methods were tried before attempting the balloon anchor. In this technique, an over-the-wire balloon was inflated in the distal vessel followed by gentle retraction of the balloon catheter and microwire allowed only a wire bridge across the aneurysm neck, thereby allowing the stent catheter to be brought up in a standard fashion. This technique may facilitate the use of new stent technologies for the treatment of aneurysms that would otherwise be untreatable with endovascular therapies.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Giant intracranial aneurysms (dome diameter >25 mm) pose significant challenges to both endovascular and surgical treatment approaches. These aneurysms typically have wide necks and a dominant flow jet that constantly directs any device used for distal vessel access into the aneurysm. These factors complicate access to the distal parent vessel for the performance of stent assisted coiling. This, coupled with the inability to achieve stable distal purchase of the access after it is obtained, often leads to abortion of the procedure. We report a novel technique that helps in achieving reliable access to the distal parent vessel with the microcatheter. This is of increasing importance as more of these giant aneurysms will be treated in the future with advancements and refinements in flow diverting stents.

Case report

An individual who had progressive dysphagia over the course of a few months was referred to our institution with an unruptured giant aneurysm identified on non-invasive imaging. The past medical history included hypertension, abdominal aortic aneurysm, hypothyroidism, hyperlipidemia and depression. Cranial nerve dysfunction was not appreciated on the clinical examination. A diagnostic angiogram showed a giant cavernous internal carotid artery (ICA) aneurysm (figures 1A,B and 2A,B) with flow directed into the aneurysm dome. A balloon occlusion test was performed to assist in the treatment decision making process. The patient failed the occlusion test, and carotid artery sacrifice was therefore not considered a therapeutic option. After a thorough discussion of options with the patient and family, including continued radiographic surveillance and endovascular and microsurgical approaches, endovascular stent assisted coiling was chosen as the best primary treatment option for this patient. Surgical occlusion of the carotid artery with an extracranial–intracranial bypass was reserved for possible endovascular therapy failure.

Figure 1

Right internal carotid artery angiogram showing giant aneurysm before (A, B) and after (C, D) coiling.

Figure 2

Magnified view of the neck and parent vessel (A, B) showing the inlet and outlet vessels (*) and the acute angle between these vessels at the aneurysm neck. (C) Microwire access of the distal vessel with redundant coils in the aneurysm sac. C2–C4 show the balloon anchor in the distal vessel and release of the redundant loops (arrows) to form a wire bridge at the aneurysm neck to facilitate stent assisted coiling.


Transfemoral access was obtained with a 6 French sheath. A 6 French Envoy guide catheter (Codman Neurovascular, Raynham, Massachusetts, USA) was positioned in the right ICA. The patient was heparinized with 3500 units of heparin, resulting in an activated coagulation time of 297 s. Navigation of the microcatheter across the neck of the aneurysm to access the distal vasculature was difficult because of the location, large size of the aneurysm and considerable inflow jet into the aneurysm dome away from the distal parent vessel. Additionally, an adequate buttress was not present to maneuver a microwire or catheter into the distal vessel because the wide aneurysm neck was located along the outer curvature of the ICA. Distal access failed after multiple attempts using microcatheters of variable stiffness and with different tip shapes in combination with different microwires (figure 3A–E).

Figure 3

Illustration of the balloon anchor technique. (A) A fusiform aneurysm with different inlet and outlet flow directions. This makes directing the microwire into the distal parent vessel difficult. (B) The microwire is allowed to follow the inlet flow and curve around in the aneurysm to exit at the outlet. (C) A balloon is inflated in the distal parent vessel to serve as an anchor, and the wire is slowly pulled to bridge the neck of the aneurysm. (D) A stent is placed across the aneurysm neck. (E) Stent assisted coiling of the aneurysm.

After multiple failed attempts, the microwire was allowed to follow the flow into the aneurysm, looping around the aneurysm dome to reemerge from the aneurysm neck in an orientation that allowed for distal parent vessel access (figure 2C1). This was accomplished with a Synchro2 standard microwire (Boston Scientific, Natick, Massachusetts, USA) advanced through an Excelsior SL-10 microcatheter (Boston Scientific). The Synchro2 wire was then removed, and an Asahi Prowater exchange length microwire (Abbott Vascular Devices, Abbott Park, Illinois, USA) was placed in the distal middle cerebral artery vasculature. The hydrophobic tip of the Asahi Prowater yielded additional anchoring of the microwire during exchange of the microcatheter for a 3.5×15 mm over-the-wire Gateway balloon (Boston Scientific). The Gateway balloon was inflated in the proximal M1, and the shear force generated against the endothelial wall was used as an anchor point to slowly unravel the microwire from within the aneurysm dome. This allowed the microwire to be straightened into the parent vessel and recreated a virtual neck (shortest distance between the aneurysm inlet and outlet) across the aneurysm (figure 2C2–C4). The Gateway balloon was deflated and exchanged for a Prowler select plus microcatheter (Codman Neurovascular) and a 4.5×28 mm Enterprise stent (Codman Neurovascular) was deployed across the aneurysm neck in a standard fashion (figure 2B). A 45° Excelsior 1018 microcatheter (Boston Scientific) and a Synchro2 standard microwire were then used to catheterize the aneurysm. The aneurysm was embolized with multiple Trufill coils (Codman Neurovascular) to obtain >95% coil embolization of the aneurysm sac (figure 1C). Catheters were removed in a standard fashion. A Mynx closure device (AccessClosure, Inc, Mountain View, California, USA) was used to remove the sheath and close the arteriotomy. The patient was then transferred from the angiography suite in a condition the same as at neurologic baseline; there was no sign of groin hematoma and distal pulses in the leg were preserved. The patient remained neurologically intact throughout the hospital stay and was discharged 2 days after the procedure. The 6 month follow-up angiogram demonstrated 100% coil occlusion (figure 1D).


Giant intracranial aneurysms are a rare entity, comprising approximately 5% of all intracranial aneurysms.1 Giant saccular aneurysms, as in the case presented here, have a predilection for locations with high hemodynamic stresses. The natural history of these aneurysms is quite ominous.2 3 Drake and Peerless4 reported mortality rates of 66% at 2 years and >80% at 5 years among patients with untreated giant aneurysms. The treatment of these lesions remains a challenge for both surgical and endovascular techniques.3–16 Surgical options for giant aneurysm treatment include clip reconstruction, parent vessel sacrifice and trapping with or without bypass. The objective of these methods is exclusion of the aneurysm from the normal vasculature and reduction of mass effect. Morbidity rates of 26–35% and mortality rates of 7–21% have been reported for open surgical treatment of giant aneurysms.4 9 10 14 17 18

Giant aneurysms are one of the most difficult lesions to treat endovascularly because of their size, flow characteristics, wide or complex necks, friable parent vessels, involvement of perforators and high recurrence rates. As previously outlined by Parkinson et al,19 endovascular techniques can be thought of as either deconstructive strategies (exclusion of the aneurysm and parent vessel from the cerebral circulation) or reconstructive strategies (exclusion of the aneurysm only). The reconstructive approach requires distal access and can pose a significant technical challenge due to strong jets of blood flow that are directed into the aneurysm dome.

Endovascular approaches are preferred when there is perforator involvement, heavy calcification, deep location, proximity to eloquent brain, anticipated surgical morbidity, lack of symptoms from mass effect, need for bypass after surgical occlusion and if there is fairly favorable geometry for stent assisted coiling. Parkinson et al19 reviewed the current endovascular literature and reported rates of morbidity (27–38%) and mortality (7.5–9.6%) that were similar to those for surgical techniques but were associated with less successful occlusion rates. In a recently reported retrospective review of 39 consecutive giant intracranial aneurysms treated endovascularly, an average of 1.9±1.1 sessions were required to treat each aneurysm and >95% occlusion was achieved in 64% of aneurysms at the time of the last angiographic follow-up, with parent vessel preservation maintained in 74% of cases.1 The cumulative per patient mortality rate was 16% and morbidity was 32%. Other authors reported mortality rates of 24–27% and morbidity rates of 12–42%.6–8 11–13 15 16 Complications of endovascular treatment include poor occlusion rates secondary to delayed coil compaction, coil herniation, stent occlusion or thrombus formation, and late rebleeding.

Recently, there has been increasing interest in using a flow diverter stent for giant aneurysms with a segmental defect in the parent vessel for parent vessel reconstruction. The Pipeline embolization device (ev3, Irvine, California, USA), a CE mark approved device, is being evaluated for safety and efficacy in trials in the USA and has shown promising results.20 The Silk stent (Balt, Montmorency, France) is another CE mark approved flow diverter stent that is being tested in Europe for the treatment of intracranial aneurysms. When the use of these devices increases, more giant aneurysms will be treated with endovascular means and advanced techniques of achieving safe distal access will become important for decreasing the morbidity and increasing the success of these procedures.

The patient reported here failed the balloon occlusion test, and a bypass procedure would have been necessary to surgically occlude this aneurysm. To avoid this added morbidity, a decision was made to attempt to treat this patient with stent assisted coiling. Significant difficultly was encountered in crossing the neck of this lesion because of the constant redirection of the microwire and microcatheter into the aneurysm dome. Various strategies were attempted to gain distal access, none of which was successful. To avoid progressive use of stiffer microwire–microcatheter combinations that increase the potential for dissection or aneurysm rupture, a soft microwire was allowed to follow the preferential path of the flow into and around the aneurysm, re-emerging at the neck, thereby allowing navigation into the distal parent vessel. Once distal access was obtained, the next technical challenge was to uncoil the loops of microwire from within the aneurysm in order to facilitate stent deployment. A balloon with a well defined radial dimension (ie, the Gateway balloon) was inflated in the distal parent vessel, which produced gentle traction while tension was placed on the microwire to remove the redundancy of the microwire loops from within the aneurysm. This novel technique could be used for other circumstances in which local hemodynamic forces limit navigation into distal parent vessels.


Giant aneurysms remain technically difficult to treat with an aggressive natural history and complication ridden endovascular and microsurgical approaches. These large aneurysms have complex hemodynamic environments, which have resulted in suboptimal occlusion and high recurrence rates with primary coiling. Flow diversion techniques using stents and dedicated flow diverting stents with more vessel wall coverage have made endovascular strategies once again attractive. Advances in covered or partially covered stents offer exciting possibilities for the endovascular treatment of giant aneurysms and have been previously described.21–24 Deliverability and, hence, distal access will remain a key technical challenge in the use of this technology. The balloon anchor technique increases the effectiveness of stent delivery for these difficult lesions. However, deployment of stents requires traversing the aneurysmal segment with stable distal vascular access. Complex hemodynamics and giant neck configurations make primary microwire access for deliverability of subsequent hardware across the neck especially challenging. The technique described here allows for safe and secure distal vascular access in such difficult situations. The balloon anchor technique will undoubtedly aid the delivery of flow diversion technologies across the necks of these difficult and dangerous giant aneurysms.


We thank Paul H Dressel, BFA, for preparation of the illustrations and Debra J Zimmer, AAS CMA-A, for editorial assistance.



  • Competing interests LNH receives research support from Toshiba; serves as a consultant to Abbott, Boston Scientific, Cordis, Micrus and WL Gore; has a financial interest in AccessClosure, Boston Scientific, Cordis and Micrus; serves as a board member, trustee or holds an officer position in AccessClosure and Micrus; receives honoraria from Bard, Boston Scientific and Cordis; has a financial interest in Valor Medical; and also receives royalties from Cordis (for the AngioGuard device). EIL receives research grant support (principal investigator: Stent-Assisted Recanalization in acute Ischemic Stroke, SARIS), other research support (devices) and honoraria from Boston Scientific and research support from Micrus Endovascular and ev3; has ownership interests in Intratech Medical Ltd and Mynx/Access Closure; serves as a consultant on the board of Scientific Advisors to Codman Neurovascular/Cordis Corporation; serves as a consultant per project and/or per hour for Micrus Endovascular, ev3 and TheraSyn Sensors, Inc; and receives fees for carotid stent training from Abbott Vascular and ev3. EIL receives no consulting salary arrangements. All consulting is per project and/or per hour. JM is a consultant for Actelion Inc; and his employer (University of Florida at Gainesville) receives educational funding and consultant reimbursement from Codman. SKN is the recipient of the 2010–2011 Cushing Award of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. AHS has received research grants from the University at Buffalo and from the National Institutes of Health (NINDS 1R01NS064592-01A1, Hemodynamic induction of pathologic remodeling leading to intracranial aneurysms); is a consultant to Codman Neurovascular/Cordis Corporation, Concentric Medical, ev3 and Micrus Endovascular; serves on speakers' bureaus for Codman Neurovascular/Cordis Corporation and Genentech; and has received honoraria from Genentech, Neocure Group LLC, American Association of Neurological Surgeons' courses and an Emergency Medicine Conference and from Codman Neurovascular/Cordis Corporation for training other neurointerventionists. AHS receives no consulting salary arrangements. All consulting is per project and/or per hour.

  • Patient consent Detail has been removed from this case description to ensure anonymity. The editors and reviewers have seen the detailed information available and are satisfied that the information backs up the case the authors are making.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.