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EU Project to Develop More Versatile Heart Pacemakers

Alain Nogaret

Alain Nogaret (University of Bath)

1 February 2017. An initiative in Europe plans to design a new type of pacemaker device that adapts to a host of signals in the cardiovascular system and regulates multiple heart functions. The Adaptive-Cardio-Respiratory Pacemaker, or CresPace, project is led by physicist Alain Nogaret at University of Bath in the U.K., supported by a €4.9 million ($US 6.3 million) award from the Future and Emerging Technologies program of the European Union.

Today’s pacemakers and implanted defibrillators perform a limited set of functions, such as detect dangerous abnormal heart beats and respond with electronic signals to stimulate a more normal rhythm. Nogaret and colleagues from Bath and 5 other European universities, plus 2 technology companies, seek to develop a device that addresses a wider range of cardiac disorders, by responding and adapting to a wider range of physiological signals.

Nogaret studies neural networks and models based on electrical signals in the body. These models incorporate principles of nonlinear systems, where outputs from the systems do not vary in direct proportion to the inputs. While these systems are more complex, they are also more like real-life human cell activity. In September 2016, Nogaret and colleagues published a paper describing simulation models derived from these neural signals that can predict the flow of signalling traffic in small animals.

The CresPace project seeks to implement small neural networks known as central pattern generators into implanted devices that respond to a variety of physiological signals. Central pattern generators in the body control motor behavior and represent rhythmic activities, such as those in the cardiovascular system, but also can add functions over time. Devices created by CresPace aim to be safer and simpler than today’s systems, and can also be implanted once without the need for replacement.

By the project’s close at end of 2021, the team aims to demonstrate a device in lab animals that addresses irregular heart rhythms, but also related disorders such as heart failure, sleep apnea, and hypertension. A key feature of the CresPace devices will be nonlinear algorithms that interpret a range of physiological signals and respond with appropriate biological motor sequences, which will be programmed into devices’ circuits. This part of the project is expected to present major challenges to the team, since programming central pattern generators has up to now been an obstacle.

The two companies in CresPace are expected to play key roles. Medical device company Medtronic will work with University of Bath to develop advanced sensor technology. And semiconductor maker Microsemi is expected to offer its expertise in miniaturization and low-power wireless technology.

Nogaret also founded the spin-off company Ceryx Medical Ltd. last year that plans to develop bioelectronic devices based on central pattern generators.

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