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Make Mine Bioresorbable

By KIM BELLARD

I learned a new word this week: bioresorbable.  It means pretty much what you might infer — materials that can be broken down and absorbed into the body, i.e., biodegradable.  It is not, as it turns out, a new concept for health care – physicians have been using bioresorbable stitches and even stents for several years.  But there are some new developments that further illustrate the potential of bioresorbable materials. 

It’s enough to make Green New Deal supporters smile.

Bioresorbable stents and stitches are all well and good – who wants to be stuck with them or, worse yet, to need them removed? – but they are essentially passive tools.  Not so with pacemakers, which have to monitor and respond.  Medicine has made great progress in making pacemakers ever smaller and longer lasting, but now we have a bioresorabable pacemaker. 

Researchers from Northwestern University and The George Washington University just published their success with “fully implantable and bioresorbable cardiac pacemakers without leads or batteries.”  What their title might lack in pithy is more than offset by the scope of what they’ve done.  Fully implantable!  No leads!  No batteries!  And bioresorbable! 

Most pacemakers are, of course, designed to be permanent, but there are situations where they are implanted on a temporary basis, such as after a heart attack or drug overdose.  Dr. Rishi Arora, co-leader of the study, noted: “The current standard of care involves inserting a wire, which stays in place for three to seven days. These have potential to become infected or dislodged.” 

Dr. Arora went on to explain:

Instead of using wires that can get infected and dislodged, we can implant this leadless biocompatible pacemaker. The circuitry is implanted directly on the surface of the heart, and we can activate it remotely. Over a period of weeks, this new type of pacemaker ‘dissolves’ or degrades on its own, thereby avoiding the need for physical removal of the pacemaker electrodes. This is potentially a major victory for post-operative patients.

The device is only 15 millimeters long, 250 microns thick and weighs less than a gram, yet still manages to deliver electric pulses to the heart as needed.  It is powered and controlled using near field communications (NFC); “You know when you try to charge a phone wirelessly? It’s exactly the same principle,” GW’s Igor Efimov, a co-leader of the study, told StatNews

It dissolves over a period of days or weeks, based on the specific composition and thickness of the materials.

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