When medical pacemakers were first developed in the 1950s, they revolutionized treatment for cardiovascular disorders. This tiny device sends small electrical pulses to the heart to help it beat in a regular rhythm. Ever since implantable pacemakers were first developed, the design has stayed mostly the same. However, some medical researchers are starting to experiment with this standardized product once again.
In the past decade, the Electrophysiology Clinical Research & Innovations Team at the Texas Heart Institute has been working to improve the design of pacemakers. Along with innovative partners at the University of California and Rice University, the team has been trying to see how new technology could potentially better pacemakers. According to professor Aydin Babakhani, the type of pacemaker most people still use is essentially on the same level of technology as a wired telephone.
The typical pacemaker still requires doctors to run wires through blood vessels and implant a battery inside of a person. However, the new pacemaker that the Texas Heart Institute researchers have designed is meant to be a batteryless pacemaker with less wires. This style of pacemaker will get energy wirelessly from an external battery pack situated outside of the patient’s heart. It can change the frequency of the signals it sends out by adjusting the amount of power received wirelessly by a small antenna.
In addition to eliminating the need for more bulky and invasive medical devices, the researchers also hope their pacemaker will be more comfortable to wear. Since it is so much smaller, the pacemaker can be placed directly in the heart. At just 4 millimeters in width including the receiving antenna and pacing signal, the chip fits comfortably against the heart itself.This delivers pacing signals right to the necessary muscles instead of requiring complicated wiring arrangements that can be painful.
Right now, the researchers have not been able to test their devices with human subjects. They have tried it in pigs, which have a weight and organ arrangement similar to humans, and they found that the pacemaker was able to successfully manage heart rates ranging from 100 to 172 beats per minute. The next step in developing the new pacemakers will be refining it for human use. Hopefully, with the right funding and development, this pacemaker will revolutionize the way humans treat heart rhythm disorders.