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MRI-Safe Pacemakers Available In U.S. Hospitals Soon: What It Means For Heart Patients

This was the Guest Blog at Scientific American on February 16th, 2011.

New wave of MRI-safe pacemakers set to ship to hospitals

This week Medtronic will begin shipping to hospitals in the United States the first pacemaker approved by the FDA as safe for most MRI scans. For consumers, it is a significant step in what is expected to be a wave of new MRI-compatible implanted cardiac devices.

But this is an example of one technology chasing another and the one being chased, the MRI scanner, is changing and is a step ahead of the new line of pacemakers. The pacemaker approved for U.S. distribution is Medtronic’s first-generation pacemaker with certain limitations, while its second-generation MRI-compatible pacemaker is already in use in Europe where approval for medical devices is not as demanding as it is in the U.S. So let’s check out what this is all about — what it means now for current and future heart patients and where it may be headed.

We are all born with a natural pacemaker that directs our heart to beat 60 to 100 times a minute at rest. The pacemaker is a little mass of muscle fibers the size and shape of an almond known medically as the sinoatrial node located in the right atrium, one of four chambers of the heart. The natural pacemaker can last a lifetime. Or it can become defective. And even if it keeps working normally, some point may not function well along the electrical pathway from the pacemaker to the heart’s ventricles which contract to force blood out to the body.

Millions of people in the world whose hearts beat too fast, too slow, or out of sync because their own pacemaker is not able to do the job right, follow their doctors’ recommendation to get an artificial pacemaker connected to their heart to direct its beating. The battery-run pacemaker in a titanium or titanium alloy case the size of a small cell phone, (why can’t it be the size of an almond?) is implanted in the upper left chest, just under the skin, with one or two insulated wire leads connecting to the heart. It can be programmed to run 24/7 or to only operate when the heart reaches a certain state of irregular beating. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HeartSense*

Pre-Heart Attack “Screening?”

Imagine: There you are sitting outside on a warm, sunny day having a leisurely picnic with your family. You hear an ambulance in the distance getting closer. You’re not on call. Suddenly, the paramedics hop from the vehicle’s cabin and pronounce:

“Excuse me sir, your heart’s not getting enough oxygen and you might develop a heart attack. Please, come with us.”

Sound far fetched? Well, maybe not. A new device is being tested that might detect “silent” ischemia and notify a patient (or even call 911) that he or she is showing signs of heart ischemia on the wire installed in his or her chest. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Wireless Hacking Of Medical Implants: A Call For Regulation

Researchers from the Medical Device Safety Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle have published an article in the latest New England Journal of Medicine suggesting technological and regulatory actions that they hope will increase the security and privacy of implantable medical devices.

As has been reported earlier, implantable pacemakers, defibrillators, and similar devices are subject to wireless hacking that may influence their functionality. Although a lip-smacking target for devious hackers, an actual incident where a person’s implant has been interfered with is yet to be reported.

NEJM: Improving the Security and Privacy of Implantable Medical Devices…

Flashback: Implant Hacking Possible, Not Probable…Yet

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

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