Pacemakers are a great innovation and have helped millions of people around the world. From their crude initial design, pacemakers have come a long way. They’ve become smaller in size and their batteries now last for decades. In another major development in the area, scientists at Northwestern University and George Washington University have tested a wireless pacemaker that needs no batteries and dissolves in the body after a few weeks.
While pacemakers are a critical and long-term solution for people with arrhythmia – a condition where the heartbeat is irregular, there are others who need to use the device for just a few weeks.
“Sometimes patients only need pacemakers temporarily, perhaps after an open heart surgery, heart attack, or drug overdose,” said Dr. Rishi Arora, a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine. “After the patient’s heart is stabilized, we can remove the pacemaker. The current standard of care involves inserting a wire, which stays in place for three to seven days. These have potential to become infected or dislodged.” Arora is a member of the team at Northwestern who came up with a bioresorbable solution, the naturally dissolving pacemaker that works with no wires or batteries.
The device is made up mostly of naturally occurring elements like tungsten, magnesium, and silicon. These are used to make an inductive coil, diode, and dielectric layer are used to power the device from outside the body using wireless charging, just the way we now charge our smartphones.
The only synthetic material used is a polymer, poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) or PLGA, which is a biocompatible polymer known for its biodegradability and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a range of biomedical devices.
The device, the size of a tiny tennis racquet, is sutured onto the heart and the pace controlled from outside the body. After a few weeks, the pacemaker withers away inside the body leaving no trace of harmful chemicals inside.
The researchers have tested the device in mice, rats, rabbits, dogs, and human heart models. The thickness of the device can be manipulated in accordance with the time period the patient needs to use the device. Costing about $100 to make, the device will need to pass through rigorous regulatory processes before it becomes available to patients.
“This technology makes it possible to create a host of diagnostic and therapeutic transient devices for monitoring progression of diseases and therapies, delivering electrical, pharmacological, cell therapies, gene reprogramming and more,” said Igor Efimov at George Washington University and a co-author of the paper published in Nature.