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Changing thoughts into action: innovations in medical product development

By Alan Richardson - Last updated: Friday, May 18, 2012

Working in the breakthrough technology and product development sector can be thrilling particularly when you see other organisations building on research from multiple parties and making advances that really benefit people. Its very often in the space of innovative medical product development that some of the most satisfying projects are done because you can see the real benefits they offer to real people. This week I saw Fergus Walsh’s inspiring report about Brain Control of a robotic arm enabling a paralysed person to take a drink unaided. It reminded me of an earlier stage innovative product development we collaborated with the Wadsworth Centre on in 2005, which by means of a skull cap could translate brain activity into computer commands without the need for an implant. This was referred to by my colleague Patrick Pordage in an earlier blog. The latest development came from a partnership by Brown University and theDepartment of Veteran Affairs, Rhode Island, and the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston and utilizes an implant on the motor cortex much smaller than a penny piece. These kinds of developments offer the potential for transformatory quality of life enhancements for patients with locked in syndrome, stroke victims and other patients whose motor functions are impaired.

These kinds of developments don’t just offer hope in the context of paralysis. Medical implants in general offer benefits in many areas of therapy. Fundamentally this is enabled by the extreme miniaturization of electronics which enable both the construction of extraordinarily complex systems in a very small form factor, but just as importantly reduction in power consumption enabling devices to run for years without needing a battery change. Indeed in the future the potential for energy harvesting from the body meaning that no power source may be needed at all.

In the cardiac area it is already possible to have implanted pace making and defibrillation to manage heart disease, recently we developed the first Wireless Pacing System for EBR Systems. Current CRT pacemakers or defibrillators are implanted in patients with chronic heart failure requiring both the left and right ventricles to be paced. Such devices require the implantation of three leads into the heart, one of which involves painstakingly threading a lead through a difficult and complex route running from the right atrium of the heart, out of the heart and into the coronary sinus, a vasculature structure on the outside surface of the heart to the left ventricle. A pacemaker/defibrillator device is connected to the leads which are used to sense heart activity and to deliver electrical stimulation through electrodes at the end of the leads.  The electrical stimulation applied to the right and to the left ventricles synchronizes the heart’s contraction in a way that improves overall cardiac function in heart failure patients. However, added to the difficulty of the procedure itself is the chance of lead failure and infection and the new leadless system reduces these risks substantially.

Beyond cardiac, there will be exciting developments in the coming years in Surgical and Interventional Products in the arena of medical implants with advanced microelectronic technology to control such conditions as epilepsy utilising sensing and detection to regulate therapy.


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AuthorAlan Richardson


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