Feature

With Every Beat, NASA Involved in How the Heart Behaves
05.08.09
 
"Who knows?" laughed Dr. Rob Bryant, the inventor of a NASA 'super plastic.' "The life I save might be my own."

Dr. Rob Bryant examines a laboratory model of a cardiac resynchronization therapy device
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Rob Bryant, a senior researcher at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., examines a laboratory model of a cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) device. Bryant is the inventor of a high tech aerospace plastic called LaRC-SI that is the insulation material on one of the thinnest left-heart leads available for a CRT. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Then Bryant, a senior researcher at NASA Langley, takes a serious note, "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."

And heart failure, like structure failure on an aircraft, is serious business.

The plastic is an advanced aerospace resin, Langley Research Center's Soluble Imide, or LaRC-SI -- a highly flexible material, resistant to chemicals, and withstands extreme hot and cold temperatures. The technology was developed for an aerospace high-speed research program. But among its other applications, the material was also discovered to be biologically inert -- suitable for medical use including implantable devices.

The application is the insulation for leads to the human heart from a cardiac resynchronization therapy or CRT -- a stopwatch-sized device implanted into the chest. 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.

NASA licensed the patented LaRC-SI insulation technology in July 2004 to Medtronic Inc. -- a Minneapolis-based medical technology company -- who recognized the potential of the highly flexible resin for its Attain Ability left-heart lead cardiac CRT device.

Due in part to Langley Research Center's Soluble Imide, on April 6, 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a left-heart lead available for use with the new Medtronic CRT -- one of the thinnest available for heart failure patients. 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.

Artist depiction of the placement of a Medtronic Inc. Attain Ability left-heart lead
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Artist's depiction of the placement of a Medtronic Inc. Attain Ability left-heart lead to improve the heart's efficiency to increase blood flow to the body. The lead is one of the thinnest available because of NASA's LaRC SI, a high tech aerospace plastic used as the insulation material. Credit: Medtronic, Inc.

"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," added Bryant.

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.

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.

For more about LaRC SI, visit:
› http://technologygateway.nasa.gov/Advanced_Materials.html
› http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2008/hm_4.html
 
 
Christopher Rink
NASA Langley Research Center