Cardiac Patients Take NASA Super Plastic to Heart
WASHINGTON -- A NASA technology that was developed for an aerospace high-speed research program is now part of an implantable device for heart failure patients.
NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., created an 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 "super plastic" 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 Inc., a Minneapolis-based medical technology company. Medtronic Inc. incorporated the material into its Attain Ability left-heart lead, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved.
The use of this NASA-developed material in a medical implant is the latest in a long line of medical applications that have benefited from NASA technology.
"Langley Research Center's Soluble Imide is an excellent example of how taxpayer investment in NASA materials research has resulted in a direct benefit beyond the aerospace sector by extending the quality of life through medical technology," Bryant said.
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 resynchronization 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. A lead is a special wire that delivers energy from a CRT to the heart muscle. Electrical impulses generated by CRTs resynchronize 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 recognized 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 U.S. and Canada showed physicians were successful in placing the Attain Ability lead 96.4 percent of the time.
The Langley Research Center's Soluble Imide was featured in Spinoff 2008 -- NASA's annual premier publication featuring successfully commercialized NASA technology. For more than 40 years, the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program has facilitated the transfer of NASA technology to the private sector, benefiting global competition and the economy. Since 1976, Spinoff has featured 40 to 50 of these commercial products annually.
In 1995, R&D Magazine selected the resin for an R&D 100 award as one of the top 100 technical innovations of the year.
NASA Television is airing a Video File demonstrating the technology. For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:
For more information about Langley Research Center's Soluble Imide, visit:
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