HEALTH

 By SARAH-JANE
 DOYON-DALLAIRE
 Sciences de la nature

 

 

AN

ELECTRIFYING INVENTION...

IN CANADA!

During the past years, thousands of lives were saved due to the great progress that has been made in the medical area. Technologies are now really advanced and still continue to develop, creating new ways to care for different illnesses. The pacemaker, a small machine implanted in the chest that controls the heart rate, is one of the revolutionary inventions that contributed a lot to the advances made in medicine. We owe its creation to a Canadian man named John Hopps, who is an important figure of bioengineering. Without him, a major part of the knowledge concerning health would, still today, remain rather limited.

John Hopps was a Canadian Electrical Engineer and is known as the father of bioengineering due to the inventions he designed, especially the pacemaker, which saw the light of day in a quite particular way. In fact, in the 1940’s, two surgeons, Dr. Wilfred G. Bigelow and Dr. John C. Callaghan from Toronto elaborated a technique to make open-heart surgeries easier that implied cooling down the temperature of the patient’s body in order to slow his heart rate. However, the major issue they faced was that the heart had to keep beating throughout the operation, otherwise, the subject would die. Fortunately, the two surgeons, one day, found out unintentionally that they could restart a heart that had stopped beating with an electrical probe. In light of their discovery, the two men asked John Hopps to create a device out of it, which he successfully did.

To begin with, the pacemaker is a very small clinical device that is implanted in the chest of the patient in order to control his abnormal heart rhythm by stimulating the organ with some electric pulses. Most of the time, people who need a pacemaker are prone to arrhythmia. This illness is at the roof of the inconstant heart rate and is divided in two branches: tachycardia, which represents a heartbeat that is too fast, and bradycardia, which, in contrast, represents a heartbeat that is slower than normal.  This second type of arrhythmia is the most common one. The pacemaker is also indispensable to people who have had a heart block, which is a trouble in the functioning of the electrical system of the heart.  There are many other reasons that may lead to the insertion of a pacemaker, such as faints that are too frequent and that might be due to a slower heart rhythm as well as having heart muscle problems. In addition, there are, according to the American Heart Association, more than 3 million people with a pacemaker in the world. Furthermore, there are about 600 000 of these machines that are implanted each year. On the whole, the pacemaker contributes to improve the state of health of every one who needs it, which makes it more than essential for plenty of people.

Additionally, the pacemaker has obviously not always been the way it is now. Nowadays, its size can be compared to the one of an USB stick, which makes the process of implantation a lot easier and faster (usually, the surgery does not take more than an hour). Pacemakers are inserted close to the collarbone, just below the skin. Most of the time, people recover within a few days and can go back to their daily occupations very quickly. That being said, at the beginning, the first prototypes built by Hopps in 1949 were exceedingly bulky and couldn’t be inserted in a human body. Indeed, the patient wouldn’t bear the large machine and the surgery itself would have been way too risky. By luck, a decade later, scientists were able to significantly reduce the size of the pacemaker : it was finally ready to be implanted in a body. Nevertheless, a majority of devices would become dysfunctional after a very short period of time (about two years) and would then have to be removed. It’s in the 1970’s that major progress was made. European scientists developed a nuclear-powered pacemaker that could last up to ten years and that was as short as 35 millimeters. They were then powered with plutonium, which was later replaced by lithium-ion batteries. This type of battery is still used today. All in all, modern pacemakers are the result of many attempts and prototypes that have been elaborated by several scientists since the 1940’s.

Subsequently, since the medicine area is constantly evolving and technologies are becoming more advanced, there are plenty of possibilities that ensue from the evolution of the pacemaker. As a matter of fact, according to Medtronic, which is the largest medical technology company in the world whose mission is to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life, the pacemaker could revolutionize the health industry if everything goes as expected. In fact, Medtronic is trying to figure out a way to dwarf the size of this device so that it can be implanted directly in the heart.  This would allow doctors to insert the pacemaker via a tube, called a catheter, which would be inserted in the leg of the patient from where it would be directed to go straight to the heart. This surgery would require only a small incision and would last very little time. Making the operation easier would enable more people to get a pacemaker. Consequently, an increased number of lives could be saved.  On the whole, the evolution of the pacemaker is encouraging regarding the future of medicine and could genuinely revolutionize this field.

In conclusion, the pacemaker is an essential clinical device and, over time, has helped saving and improving the life of thousands of people all around the globe and will surely lead, in the near future, to a major breakthrough in the health area. Furthermore, don’t you think it’s rather enhancing to know that the man who is at the root of this dazzling progression comes from our nation? Indeed, Canadian John Hopps, known as the father of Bioengineering, played a key role in the creation of a revolutionary machine: the pacemaker, which assures a very promising future in medicine. 

 

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