New Medtronic heart device uses 'super plastic' from NASA

May 7, 2009 By Janet Moore

A "super plastic" invented by NASA engineers for use in aeronautic and space applications is now being used in a medical device that treats people suffering from heart failure.

Medtronic Inc., the Fridley, Minn.-based medical device maker, claims that its Attain Ability heart lead wire represents the first time a NASA-developed material has been used in an implantable medical device.

The company said Wednesday that the approved the lead, a wire that connects a cardiac resynchronization device, or CRT, implanted in the chest to the left ventricle of the heart.

CRT devices emit electrical impulses to resynchronize heartbeats in patients suffering from , a chronic condition that afflicts about 5 million Americans. Historically, it has been difficult for doctors to snake the leads, or wires, to the correct spot in the heart targeted for stimulation.

The "super " insulation on the lead, as well as its thin design, make this process easier, said Lonny Stormo, vice president of therapy development for Medtronic's Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management division. FDA approval was bolstered by a 190-patient clinical trial to prove the device's safety and effectiveness.

Although Medtronic suffered a setback when it recalled its popular Sprint Fidelis lead in 2007 and subsequently reported 13 related deaths, the company pointed out Wednesday that the Attain Ability lead is attached to a different device that treats a different condition.

The LaRC-SI super plastic, developed at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., originally was intended to replace metal parts on airplanes, helicopters and space vehicles.

But it soon became apparent to inventor Rob Bryant, a NASA engineer, that his material was extremely adaptable. "It's very forgiving, it can be processed in many different ways," he said.

To Bryant, a medical application using his plastic isn't at all far-fetched. Yet the journey from NASA labs to the human heart was a bit circuitous.

NASA licensed the technology to a Virginia power company, which investigated whether the insulation could prevent intake pipes at power plants from getting clogged with marine life. While that project didn't pan out, other companies such as Medtronic found ways to adapt the technology for different uses.

Medtronic previously collaborated with NASA in the development of its diabetes insulin pump.

"It's a great compliment to NASA when people take the technology we developed for a certain mission and apply it to things we never even thought of," Bryant said. The fact that the device may save a life is an added perk: "I've often joked that the life saved by this invention may be my own."


(c) 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune Web edition on the World Wide Web at
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Natural compound reduces signs of aging in healthy mice

October 27, 2016

Much of human health hinges on how well the body manufactures and uses energy. For reasons that remain unclear, cells' ability to produce energy declines with age, prompting scientists to suspect that the steady loss of efficiency ...

A metabolic switch to turn off obesity

October 27, 2016

You've tried all the diets. No matter: you've still regained the weight you lost, even though you ate well and you exercised regularly! This may be due to a particular enzyme in the brain: the alpha/beta hydrolase domain-6 ...

Scientists develop 'world-first' 3-D mammary gland model

October 27, 2016

A team of researchers from Cardiff University and Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute has succeeded in creating a three-dimensional mammary gland model that will pave the way for a better understanding of the mechanisms ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.