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MRI scans now possible for people with new pacemaker

3 Dec 2001

A newly developed pacemaker has been developed that is compatible with MRI scans.

More than half a million people worldwide have pacemakers implanted each year to keep their hearts pumping in time. However, one major disadvantage is that they usually can no longer benefit from MRI scans - used in the diagnosis of epilepsy, cancer and other conditions and diseases - as the wire cable running from a pacemaker to the heart can heat up to a dangerous temperature during the procedure, burning the heart lining and possibly triggering a rapid heartbeat.

The new device replaces the foot-long wiring with optical fiber and delivers the electricity via semiconductor laser. It would be the first laser to be implanted in the human body, its makers, Biophan Technologies, say.

Clinical trials are being explored with several heart institutes..

"Potentially, this could be a very significant advance," said Dr Gabriel Gregoratos, Professor of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco who chairs a committee sponsored by the American Heart Association that writes guidelines for inserting pacemakers.

"The risk of having an MRI with a [old-style] pacemaker is not a chance worth taking," said Dr. Robert Rubin, a thoracic surgeon at Long Beach Memorial Hospital who has installed more than 2,000 pacemakers. "This device is totally MRI-compatible: It will not distort the images that are taken and the patient is not in danger."