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Dissolving pacemakers are the future of electronic medicine

Dissolving Pacemaker
Posted at 1:45 PM, Jul 16, 2021

CHICAGO, Ill. — Cardiac pacemakers require wires to be implanted in the chest to help control the patient’s heartbeat. But now researchers have developed the first-ever wireless, battery-free pacing device that doesn’t have to be removed.

It’s an implantable electrical device that dissolves inside your body after it’s done with its work.

“One of the key features of this system is very thin, silicon, nanomembrane. Actually, this is the only active part of this device,” said Yeonsik David Choi, lead developer of the device in the Rogers Research Group at Northwestern University and lead author of the study.

It may sound like science fiction but it’s turning into science fact.

“The idea here is to create sort of an alternative type of temporary pacemaker that doesn't require extraction. It’s purely wireless. There are no leads coming out of the chest,” said John Rogers, professor of material science and biomedical engineering at Northwestern University.

“The thickness is around 300 nanometers,” said Choi.

The razor-thin sliver of silicon could revolutionize the future of temporary pacemakers.

“It's built around what we refer to as transient electronic materials. These are materials that dissolve naturally when exposed to biofluids,” said Rogers.

The device itself would be attached to the heart at the tail end of surgery without needing an external box, batteries, or wires. Charging is achieved through a wireless inductive power transfer.

“Which is essentially how cell phones can be charged by the charging mats where you can just place your phone onto the mat and power is transferred to power your phone,” explained Rose Yin, a George Washington researcher, and the study’s surgical coordinator.

The biodegradable materials which include water-soluble silicon, magnesium, and wax would dissolve over the course of five to seven weeks.

Biomedical scientists at Northwestern and George Washington Universities have been investigating an alternative to traditional pacemakers for the better part of a decade.

“The current pace technology is not adequate. It's not optimal simply because these wires tend to get dislodged. They can get infected,” said Dr. Rishi Arora, a Northwestern professor of cardiology and co-author of the study.

He says this technology could eliminate the disadvantages of wired pacing and surgical extraction after the temporary pacemaker is no longer needed.

“We have nothing great right now to offer people that need it, that need more than a few days of temporary pacing support,” said Arora. “I think something like this could really help patients in the longer term.”

They’ve already successfully tested the device in small and large animals, and soon could be seeking approval for investigational testing in humans.

“You could also think of it as an electronic form of a medicine in the sense that it's a device that's present only when you need it,” said Rogers. “It's eventually expelled from the body, very much like a pharmaceutical, but it's a piece of engineered technology in electronic medicine.”

Researchers say it will likely be another two years before it’s approved for human testing. But it could be a major leap forward in a more non-invasive approach to keeping the heart ticking.