By miniaturizing wireless pacemakers, researchers have made it possible to implant the heartbeat-regulating device without surgery. Technology Review reports
With conventional pacemakers, doctors have to make a cut above the heart and dig a hole down to where the device will be implanted. Additionally, a pulse generator has to be connected through a vein near the collarbone using with wires.
Medtronic’s Micra Transcatheter Pacing System
-- the world’s smallest, they say -- can be delivered into the heart through a cut on the leg. At 24 millimeters long and 0.75 cubic centimeters in volume, it’s a tenth the size of a conventional pacemaker (and about the size of a large vitamin).
- Flexible catheters allow surgeons to steer the device through a large blood vessel in the thigh, called the femoral vein. (No incision in the chest necessary.)
- Once positioned, the device is attached to the heart wall where it sits.
- This pacemaker is also “leadless” -- that is, it doesn’t require long electrodes that wind their way into heart.
- It delivers electric pulses through small tines, or prongs, attached to the heart.
Not only does this new design reduce the amount of power required, it also eliminates a major source of device failure, Tech Review explains
. According to the manufacturer, the batteries will last up 10 years when running at full-stimulating capacity.
Last week, doctors in Austria implanted the device into a patient for the first time. Initial results from the first 60 patients are expected next year.
These tiny pacemakers are the latest effort to make heart surgery less traumatic, especially for high-risk elderly patients and those who are too frail to undergo surgery. Tech Review reports
Doctors began to widely use less invasive heart treatments in the late 1990s, when artery-unclogging balloons delivered by catheters started to replace bypass surgeries. Other cardiac technologies like stents, which prop open weak or narrow arteries, can also be delivered through blood vessels. More recently, researchers have developed artificial valves for patients whose natural valves have become damaged; these devices can also be delivered by catheters snaking through large blood vessels.