Like stitches that dissolve after they are no longer needed, a prototype for a tiny pacemaker adopts a similar approach in a design created to help patients recovering from surgery who may need temporary cardiac support. This could last a few days to several weeks. The concept, which was tested in animal models and human heart tissue, first published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. An updated model, designed to sense the body's natural cardiac rhythms and work with the implantable pacemaker, now appears in Science.
The pacemaker weighs less than half a gram, about half of a paperclip, and can extend from 15.8 millimeters to fit the size of a patient’s heart. Placed outside of the heart muscle, the pacemaker looks like a key-shaped bandage. It receives wireless signals to help control the heart’s rhythm and can be programmed to dissolve after several weeks. The prototype contains no wires, leads, or batteries – which help power current pacemakers. Researchers created the model as a noninvasive device that’s easy to insert. While uncommon, infections or damaged heart tissue may occur with tools used to sustain or remove traditional pacemakers. The authors envision these dissolvable pacemakers could mitigate those risks and also serve as a temporary device for patients waiting for permanent pacemakers to arrive.
The research was partially supported by the NHLBI.
First published July 21, 2021. Updated June 16, 2022.