In 1958, Minneapolis engineer Earl Bakken produced the first wearable external pacemaker. Since that time, biomedical engineering has contributed to human welfare by alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life. Advanced medical devices have improved the quality of life for countless patients who have benefited from early diagnoses, less invasive treatments, reductions in recovery times, and shorter hospital stays.
A medical device can be as basic as a tongue depressor. But the most advanced technologies shaping the world today are instruments such as pacemakers, implantable microchips, biochemical analysis tests, neuroprosthetics, and medical robots that allow surgeons precise, less-invasive access to anatomy that needs to be treated.
Advanced medical devices have been lifesavers for those suffering from a variety of heart conditions. Every year, about 5 million Americans learn they have heart valve disease. This disrupts the flow of blood through the heart, leaving patients short of breath and too weak for normal activities. Heart valve repair products, rings and bands sewn around the base of a damaged valve, provide stability to the valve so it can open and close properly. Mechanical valves, made of titanium or carbon, replace valves that cannot be repaired. Newer investigational technologies, such as that being developed by Nobles GC client, Xeltis, are looking to use the body’s own tissue to regrow native valves, avoiding the complications that can arise with mechanical valves.
For the 26 million Americans suffering from diabetes, medical devices are available to manage glucose levels and guarantee longer, healthier lives. Insulin pumps deliver precise doses of rapid-acting insulin to closely match the body’s needs. These instruments are small and worn externally. They can be discreetly clipped to a belt, slipped into a pocket, or hidden under clothing. With Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) systems, diabetics receive a glucose sensor under the skin, which measures glucose levels. A transmitter sends the glucose information to a monitor using radio frequencies. A small external monitor displays glucose levels on a screen and notifies the user about high or low glucose levels. Newer technologies are moving towards providing patients with “an artificial pancreas,” or a system that combines CGM and insulin pump technology in a “closed loop” fashion that requires little patient intervention.
Perhaps the most astounding gains in the past decade have been in the field of neuroprosthetics. These devices restore motor, sensory, or cognitive abilities damaged as a result of disease or accident. Neuroprosthetics capture electrical signals from the brain with microelectrode implants smaller than one square centimeter. These are attached to robotic limbs that patients control by thinking about movement. Neuroprosthetics are being tested today on some of the 1,570 American service members who have lost arms, legs, feet or hands because of injuries sustained in Afghanistan or Iraq.