Scientists create wireless pacemaker that can dissolve in body

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Doctors and patients alike can heart-ly believe that researchers developed a wireless pacemaker that can dissolve in the body.

The pacemaker is for patients who need temporary assistance to regulate their heartbeat, according to the Guardian.

The battery-free “transient pacemaker” can be implanted directly onto the surface of the heart and then be absorbed by the body when no longer needed, researchers from Northwestern University wrote in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The $100 device can be controlled and programmed from outside the body. The pacemaker dissolves in a matter of just a few weeks.

The ephemeral nature of the new pacemaker is essential for those who had open-heart surgery or other similar procedures, according to the research team.

“This is an exciting and innovative development which could be useful for some patients after cardiac surgery who develop a temporary problem with the electrical conduction of their heartbeat,” Professor Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, told the Guardian. (Samani was not involved in the study, however.)

The device weighs less than half a gram and was manufactured from materials such as magnesium, tungsten, silicon and a polymer known as PLGA. These materials all undergo chemical reactions that allow them to dissolve and be absorbed over time, according to the paper. The team can also change the thickness of the substance that encompasses the electronic materials to alter the device’s lifespan and the time it takes to dissolve.

The tennis racket-shaped device is powered by wireless technology, according to the researchers. Radiofrequency power from a device outside the body is sent to a receiver within the pacemaker, where it is then converted into an electrical current.

To test out the pacemaker, the researchers ran trials in hearts of small mammals, as well as live dogs and slices of human hearts.

“We show that these devices provide effective pacing of hearts of various sizes in mouse, rat, rabbit, canine and human cardiac models, with tailored geometries and operation timescales, powered by wireless energy transfer,” the study authors wrote.

In rats, the device operated for four days and began to dissolve after two weeks. It was not detectable on scans after seven weeks. In dogs, the system generated enough power to also be safely used in humans.

The next step is to test the devices on human patients — and to wait potentially for years for the device to pass through all regulatory processes, according to Professor John A. Rogers, a co-author of the study.

Some pacemakers are already used for temporary periods, but this often can cause major cardiac damage or health issues. Leads placed through the skin, for example, can pose risks of infection. The external power supply and control system can become accidentally dislodged. And when the device is removed, heart tissue can be damaged.

“This will need further testing to establish that it is safe and effective but, if this proves to be [the] case, then it could prevent patients ending up with permanent pacemakers unnecessarily,” Samani added.

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