World first as heart patients benefit from rice grain sized pacemaker

Posted on in Hospitals, Research, Staff, The trust

The James Cook University Hospital’s world renowned cardiology unit has become the first to treat heart failure patients using a new wireless pacemaker the size of a grain of RICE.

The team of heart specialists from The James Cook University hospital who have performed the first wireless pacemaker surgery in the world since its approval through clinical trials

The team of heart specialists from The James Cook University Hospital who have performed the first wireless pacemaker surgery in the world since its approval through clinical trials

A handful of seriously ill patients at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough were the first to benefit from the potentially lifesaving new technology, which could revolutionise surgery for heart failure.

Surgeons and cardiologists conventionally treat the condition with a Cardiac Resynchronisation Therapy (CRT) device, known as a biventricular pacemaker.

This sits below the collar bone and relies on wires that feed into the right chambers of the heart, which perform the vital function of pumping deoxygenated blood into the lungs.

A third wire is required to maintain a steady heartbeat by “pacing” the left ventricle, where blood is pumped out through the aortic valve into the aortic arch and onward to the rest of the body.

It is thought up to 30% of patients fail to respond to treatment with these pacemakers.

But the new type of wireless pacemaker, developed by EBR Systems Inc and known as WiSE Technology, is implanted directly into the innermost layer of tissue that lines the left chamber of the heart.

The new pacemaker is the size of a grain of rice

The new pacemaker, as shown on a 20p piece is size of a grain of rice

This can then perform the same job as a traditional CRT pacemaker – controlling abnormal heart rhythms using low-energy electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate – but without the need for wires and the risk of complications that come with them.

Simon James, consultant cardiologist at The James Cook University Hospital, said: “Early indications show patients are responding well to this new type of treatment and we are confident we will be able to provide more information on the benefits to patients in the very near future.

Andrew Turley, Simon James and Andrew Owens (2)“By eliminating the need for a left ventricular lead, the technology allows us to target the exact site where we pace the heart.

“It also allows us to fit the device exactly where an individual patient needs it, which could enable us to increase the number of patients who respond to this therapy, helping them to live a longer, more active life.”

During recent clinical trials of the device, patients whose conventional CRT pacemaker treatment had failed benefited from an 81% improvement in their condition.

This led to the device being approved for use in hospitals – with The James Cook University Hospital being the first to take advantage of the new type of treatment on behalf of patients outside of a research study.

Andrew Shute, Vice President Europe for EBR Systems, said: “WiSE Technology delivers stimulation directly to the inside of the left ventricle.

“This is seen as being more consistent with the functioning of a healthy heart and may explain why it benefits patients who previously failed treatment.”

Diagram shows conventional pacemaker compared to the WiSE device

Diagram shows conventional pacemaker compared to the WiSE device

Approximately 900,000 people in England & Wales have heart failure. Studies have demonstrated successful CRT therapy significantly improves symptoms and reduces hospitalisation – and saves lives.

It is thought the new device could improve CRT therapy success rates, improving a patient’s quality of life and helping them to live longer than they would if left untreated, or if their treatment using the conventional CRT pacemaker was unsuccessful.

Andrew Turley, one of two cardiologists involved in bringing the new technology to Teesside alongside Simon and cardiac surgeon Andrew Owens, said: “This is an exciting and important addition to the treatment options available for our patients with heart failure.

“We are proud to have been able to introduce it on Teesside before any other hospital in the country – or indeed, the world.”