We are dedicated to providing the best cardiovascular care to our patients. We are equally committed to medical innovation. We strive to bring the newest cardiac care technologies to our patients (as our donations allow) because their applications have the potential to improve our patient care and allow us to expand the reach of our mission to do all we can ForHearts in need.
New technology allows just about anything to “happen” and to be monitored in a remote environment, including work, school and even doctor’s appointments. Wireless technology and bluetooth devices such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit and smartphone health apps are being leveraged to better monitor patient health.
Smart software and artificial intelligence (AI) are using the data from these wearable devices and apps to detect abnormally high heart rates or arrhythmias —the most common reason someone may need a pacemaker. This AI technology could predict who will need a pacemaker by enhancing a doctor’s ability to monitor the occurrence of arrhythmias in patients and by analyzing the data from their smartwatch or phone. Diagnostic and Interventional Cardiology projects that “the increase in the use of wearable cardiac monitoring devices and the ability to provide advanced analysis of… electrophysiological data are expected to further revolutionize the field of machine learning-based diagnostics in cardiology.”
Advances in the remote monitoring of cardiac health extend directly to pacemakers as well. For example, Abbott’s Assurity MRI is the world’s smallest wireless MRI-compatible pacemaker. It provides wireless remote monitoring, allowing doctors to access patient data from the device without the patient coming to the doctor’s office, thus helping them monitor and track the patient’s heart function. Applying diagnostic and predictive analytics to this data can potentially expand preventive patient care.
ForHearts recently received a grant of 10 devices from Abbott to support our program in Paraguay. This is a first step in developing a long-lasting partnership to do more ForHearts in need.
Pacemaker Lead Technology
Today’s pacemakers are like having a mini-computer in your chest. And, just as computer technology continues to evolve, so does the technology and components of a pacemaker system.
Defibrillators and pacemakers are connected to the heart muscle through wires called leads. Lead extraction is a surgical procedure that is sometimes necessary when one or more leads need to be removed due to infection, lead failure, or lead malfunction or recall. This is a complex procedure, but technological innovations in lead extraction and replacement make it safer.
While lead extraction and replacement technology continue to evolve, there could be a day when pacemaker leads are obsolete. Earlier this year, Abbott received FDA approval for their Aveir VR leadless pacemaker system, which has a unique mapping capability that allows physicians to measure electrical signals within the heart and determine the correct placement of the device before implantation. This accuracy is vital as the leadless pacemaker is implanted directly inside the heart’s right ventricle, rather than being implanted into the chest with leads then connecting the pacemaker to the heart muscle. The Abbott device is also projected to have a battery life that is twice as long as similar pacemakers and designed to be easily removed as technology and patient needs to evolve.
Better, Smarter Stents
Innovations in cardiac care inspire us to continually innovate and look for ways we can do more ForHearts in need. In addition to providing pacemakers and pacemaker implantation procedures, there is potential for us to expand our treatment options to include other types of cardiovascular implantable devices such as heart valves and stents.
Stents, a small wire mesh tube, are some of the most frequently implanted devices, with over 2 million stents implanted yearly in the United States alone. This can be attributed to the frequency of coronary heart disease. Roughly half of all deaths from cardiovascular disease are from coronary heart disease, primarily caused by the hardening and narrowing of the arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart. Stents are implanted to try to keep this from happening.
Lifestyle changes and medication are the most common and frontline treatments for coronary heart disease, but percutaneous coronary intervention is often necessary. In this procedure, also known as angioplasty, a balloon-tipped catheter is inserted into the narrowed or blocked artery to open it and then insert a stent, restoring normal blood flow to the heart.
Stents used in coronary arteries are usually made of metal mesh and are coated with antiproliferative drugs to prevent scar tissue growth which could offset the benefits of the stent. However, these drug-eluting stents (DES), as they are called, require patients to take antiplatelet medication, as the stent’s drug coating can have adverse side effects.
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are working to build a better stent. With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, they are evaluating alternative materials for a safer and more durable stent design, including novel engineered artery sheets and nitric oxide-releasing stent coating which will lead to fewer side effects and less maintenance of the stent itself.
Just like pacemakers are equipped with intelligent wireless technology, stents can be as well. A researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed an implantable soft electronic monitoring system consisting of an intelligent stent and printed soft sensors with no batteries or circuits. This smart stent will expand the narrowed artery to restore normal blood flow while providing wireless real-time monitoring and data on the blood flow throughout the vascular system. In addition, this stent would make it possible to detect when an artery begins to narrow again or narrow in a different location, as well as provide signs of other conditions like hypertension and atherosclerosis.
These new forms of technology are just a few of the innovations happening in the field of cardiology. These innovations have the potential to improve the quality of patient care and expand the types of treatment we are able to provide our patients; It is our mission to do all we can ForHearts in need around the world.
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