Scientists have invented a temporary pacemaker which dissolves harmlessly inside a person’s body in just two months.
The device is a short-term treatment for a person who has suffered a heart attack, had surgery or is waiting for a permanent pacemaker to be fitted.
Current temporary pacemakers are stitched into the heart tissue and wires protrude through the chest to a battery pack, which powers the device and stays in place for up to a week.
Once the patient recovers, or a permanent pacemaker is fitted, the temporary one then has to be removed – another surgery which can lead to infection or dangerous complications.
But cardiologists at Northwestern University in the United States designed a self-contained unit which latches onto the heart and has no wires sticking out of the body.
However, the major breakthrough is that every component of the tennis racquet-shaped device dissolves naturally and patients therefore do not need another operation to extract it.
“Hardware placed in or near the heart creates risks for infection and other complications,” said Prof John Rogers, who led the project.
‘An exciting and innovative development’
More than 30,000 people in the UK get fitted with a pacemaker every year, and being able to minimise the number of invasive procedures would reduce the risks for all of them.
The device itself is just 250 microns thick, weighs less than half a gram, and is soft and malleable.
Unlike its bulky predecessors, the cardiac gadget is powered remotely, meaning it does not need batteries or wires.
It was tested on a range of live animals, including rabbits, dogs and mice, and also fitted to the hearts of human cadavers. It is believed it could be commercialised in two years and would cost around £70 per device.
Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which was not involved in the project, said: “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.
“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.”