Researchers from Rice University and Texas Heart Institute have created a small, wireless pacemaker that uses microwaves from an external battery to power the device. This pacemaker is smaller than a dime (image via Rice University)
Pacemakers have been saving the lives of those with heart conditions for roughly 85 years, and researchers are constantly on ways to make them better. They’ve gotten smaller over the years, but now a team of researchers at Rice University and the Texas Heart Institute have created the world’s first wireless pacemaker. With this new device, the team hopes to make pacemakers less invasive and reduce costs by eliminating those pesky cords.
The device still relies on batteries, but they’re not connected to the pacemaker. Instead, the device uses an external battery pack where it uses the radio waves it emits to help power the device. But this does mean you have to keep the battery pack with you at all times to power the pacemaker. The microwaves emitted from the battery have an 8 to 10 gigahertz range. This new pacemaker is also smaller than a dime; it’s 4 mm wide and 16mm tall. The tiny size makes it ideal to be implanted into your heart.
Traditional pacemakers are normally located away from the heart and require minor surgery when it’s time to change batteries. The leads need to be in contact with the heart – this is where complications begin springing up. If a lead comes loose, it can cause bleeding and infection. Depending on how severe the condition is, doctors have the option of placing the new device either inside or outside the heart.
Along with reducing the need for surgery once the device is implanted, it also lets doctors easily adjust the speed of signals being sent out. All it takes is increasing or decreasing the amount of power sent to the receiver. And if there’s any excess energy not being used, the device will store it once the pre-defined threshold is reached.
According to Texas Heart Institute’s Mehdi Razavi, this new device will help medical science reach the “Triple Crown” treatment for common and severe heart conditions. He says the external powering, wireless pacing, and cardiac defibrillation will be painless and imperceptible to the patient wearing the device.
Researchers are currently testing the pacemaker prototype with impressive results. They conducted trial runs on a pig and with the device implanted, its heart rate boosted from 100 bpm to 175 bpm. It’s still a long way from being tested on a human; it still needs approval from the FDA and medical community, but the device works as well as the tests show, we should should see it in the near future.
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