A resin developed for an aerospace application at NASA is now part of an implantable device for patients with heart failure.
NASA's Langley Research Center created the advanced aerospace resin, named Langley Research Center's Soluble Imide, or LaRC-SI. It is highly flexible, resistant to chemicals and withstands extreme hot and cold temperatures. The material was determined to be biologically inert, making it suitable for medical use, including implantable devices.
'One of the advantages of this material is that it lends itself to a variety of diverse applications, from mechanical parts and composites to electrical insulation and adhesive bonding,' said Rob Bryant, a NASA Langley senior researcher and inventor of the material.
In July 2004, NASA licensed the patented insulation technology to Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical technology company. Medtronic incorporated the material into its Attain Ability left-heart lead, which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved.
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is unable to pump effectively to meet the body's need for blood and oxygen. It is a chronic and progressive condition that affects more than five million Americans and more than 22 million individuals worldwide. Cardiac resynchronisation therapy, or CRT, is designed to coordinate the contraction of the heart's two lower chambers and improve the heart's efficiency to increase blood flow to the body.
CRT devices, which are stopwatch-sized, are implanted into the chest and connected to the heart by leads, such as the Attain Ability left-heart lead. The lead is a special wire that delivers energy from the CRT unit to the heart muscle. Electrical impulses generated by CRTs resynchronise heartbeats and improve blood flow.
The NASA insulation material makes possible the compact and flexible design of Medtronic's CRT lead, one of the thinnest left-heart leads available.
Placing a lead in the heart is widely recognised by physicians as the most challenging aspect of implanting CRT devices. The narrow design allows physicians to choose between different sites on the heart to deliver optimal therapy.
The lead is delivered by an inner catheter, a feature that helps physicians place the lead directly in difficult-to-reach areas of the heart. Clinical studies in the US and Canada showed physicians were successful in placing the Attain Ability lead more than 96 per cent of the time.