The Dissolving, Wireless Pacemaker

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Wireless Pacemaker
The wireless pacemaker that can dissolve in the body. Source: Northwestern University

A team of researchers have developed the first-ever wireless pacemaker that can dissolve in the body once it’s no longer needed.

Cardiac pacemakers are commonly used to help control patients’ heartbeats. Once implanted, the pacemaker mimics the cardiac electrical system and regulates the heart rate. Some people require permanent pacemakers, such as in heart failure patients. Whereas others only need temporary ones, for example, after a heart attack or medication overdose. However, the procedure of both removal and implantation is a risky one, even for temporary pacemakers.

Current method involves attaching electrodes onto the heart muscles. The leads then exit the heart through the skin and connect to a pulse generator located externally. Once the pacemaker is no longer needed, researchers remove the electrodes. However, the wires can often become infected or dislodge from their place. Thus, disrupting the electrical activity of the heart. Moreover, some people can also develop bruising or bleeding at the generation site.

Now, researchers at Northwestern and George Washington universities have discovered a way to avoid the risky procedure. The team has designed a fully implantable and bioresorbable cardiac pacemaker that does not require any batteries or wires. They tested the device on a series of animal models. The results are available in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Our wireless, transient pacemakers overcome key disadvantages of traditional temporary devices by eliminating the need for percutaneous leads for surgical extraction procedures — thereby offering the potential for reduced costs and improved outcomes in patient care.

Professor John A. Rogers, study author

The Wireless Future

The thin, flexible device resembles a tennis racket in shape and dissolves into the body in five to seven weeks. Thus, foregoing the need for a surgical extraction. Using similar technology as wireless chargers for smartphones, the pacemaker communicates with an external antenna. The radiofrequency power is then converted into an electric current that regulates the heartbeat.

We have tested the devices on small and large animal models and on human hearts from organ donors – but not yet on human patients.

Professor John A. Rogers, study author

Although researchers are yet to trial the device in humans, the device is a huge step in temporary pacemaking technology. According to the study author, Professor John A. Rogers, they can likely alter the wireless pacemaker for a variety of medical conditions. Thus, proving beneficial for not only cardiology but also other fields of medicine.

Reference:

Choi, Y.S., Yin, R.T., Pfenniger, A. et al. Fully implantable and bioresorbable cardiac pacemakers without leads or batteries. Nat Biotechnol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-021-00948-x

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