Livin' on the MDedge

A pacemaker that 'just disappears' and a magnetic diet device


Ignore this pacemaker and it will go away

At some point – and now seems to be that point – we have to say enough is enough. The throwaway culture that produces phones, TVs, and computers that get tossed in the trash because they can’t be repaired has gone too far. That’s right, we’re looking at you, medical science!

This time, it’s a pacemaker that just disappears when it’s no longer needed. Some lazy heart surgeon decided that it was way too much trouble to do another surgery to remove the leads when a temporary pacemaker was no longer needed. You know the type: “It sure would be nice if the pacemaker components were biocompatible and were naturally absorbed by the body over the course of a few weeks and wouldn’t need to be surgically extracted.” Slacker.

Well, get a load of this. Researchers at Northwestern and George Washington universities say that they have come up with a transient pacemaker that “harvests energy from an external, remote antenna using near-field communication protocols – the same technology used in smartphones for electronic payments and in RFID tags.”

Experimental pacemaker that has no battery or wires Northwestern University/George Washington University

That means no batteries and no wires that have to be removed and can cause infections. Because the infectious disease docs also are too lazy to do their jobs, apparently.

The lack of onboard infrastructure means that the device can be very small – it weighs less than half a gram and is only 250 microns thick. And yes, it is bioresorbable and completely harmless. It fully degrades and disappears in 5-7 weeks through the body’s natural biologic processes, “thereby avoiding the need for physical removal of the pacemaker electrodes. This is potentially a major victory for postoperative patients,” said Dr. Rishi Arora, one of the investigators.

A victory for patients, he says. Not a word about the time and effort saved by the surgeons. Typical.

It’s a mask! No, it’s a COVID-19 test!

Mask wearing has gotten more lax as people get vaccinated for COVID-19, but as wearing masks for virus prevention is becoming more normalized in western society, some saw an opportunity to make them work for diagnosis.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have found a way to do just that with their wearable freeze-dried cell-free (wFDCF) technology. A single push of a button releases water from a reservoir in the mask that sequentially activates three different freeze-dried biological reactions, which detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the wearer’s breath.

Initially meant as a tool for the Zika outbreak in 2015, the team made a quick pivot in May 2020. But this isn’t just some run-of-the-mill, at-home test. The data prove that the wFDCF mask is comparable to polymerase chain reactions tests, the standard in COVID-19 detection. Plus there aren’t any extra factors to deal with, like room or instrument temperature to ensure accuracy. In just 90 minutes, the mask gives results on a readout in a way similar to that of a pregnancy test. Voilà! To have COVID-19 or not to have COVID-19 is an easily answered question.

Woman wearing mask looks out through window UerDomwet/PxHere

At LOTME, we think this is a big improvement from having dogs, or even three-foot rats, sniffing out coronavirus.

But wait, there’s more. “In addition to face masks, our programmable biosensors can be integrated into other garments to provide on-the-go detection of dangerous substances including viruses, bacteria, toxins, and chemical agents,” said Peter Nguyen, PhD, study coauthor and research scientist at the Wyss Institute. The technology can be used on lab coats, scrubs, military uniforms, and uniforms of first responders who may come in contact with hazardous pathogens and toxins. Think of all the lives saved and possible avoidances.

If only it could diagnose bad breath.


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