Wireless heart rhythm devices may be the future, but it won't be easy
Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Bruce Wilkoff predicts lead-free pacemaker and ICD devices could be the next disruptive technologies in cardiovascular medicine, but that will depend on progress in accompanying technologies.
Innovative heart rhythm technologies that do away with the leads that "tether" the device to the heart may be the next big thing for heart failure patients, but the technology has a way to go before disrupting the market, according to panelists at the Cardiostim 2012 conference in France this week.
Getting rid of the leads that weave through the body to deliver shocks to the heart would mean doing away with risks including lead fractures, erosion and infections, Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Bruce Wilkoff told an audience at a popular presentation.
But the technology has a ways to go before lead-free pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators can overtake their tethered predecessors.
Innovators will initially need to overcome battery power hurdles, TheHeart.org  reported. Luckily for device makers, several companies are already working on new power sources, including a self-recharging battery that harnesses the natural movement of the heart and technologies that could wirelessly deliver energy from outside of the body.
The other hurdle lead-free device makers will face is that the devices can't deliver antitachycardia pacing, which many heart failure patients need in addition to pacing.
The technology to bridge that gap doesn't exist yet, but patients may 1 day get separate implants for the individual therapies, some panelists said. Others remained skeptical that doctors should pin their hopes on lead-free technology, especially given the dearth of clinical evidence demonstrating that they can truly keep up with implants using leads.
"We simply do not have very good long-term data," University of Würzburg's Dr. Johannes Brachmann said. "They're just assuming this system can provide the same information and the same effectiveness as the existing devices, but this has never been proven."
"We need sound evidence to use this technology," he added. "This will not be technology that can be easily implemented. It will require major investments on the part of industry."