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Biomedical engineering

National pacemaker

Four universities take part in integrated circuit development

Genius Instituto de Tecnologia Chip for pacemakers: approved at the first stageGenius Instituto de Tecnologia

In the bioengineering area and with a focus on cardiology, the project to develop a pacemaker using domestic Brazilian technology brought together the technology institute Genius Instituto de Tecnologia and Sao Paulo’s InCor Heart Institute, with the support of the company Dixtal. The equipment is indicated for people with problems of cardiac arrhythmia, i.e., alterations in the frequency of the heartbeat, which can make one feel unwell or even cause a heart attack. During the first stage of the project, which began in 2005, the researchers developed the equipment’s integrated circuit, the first Brazilian commercial chip for artificial pacemakers.

Researchers from several universities were involved in developing the chip. The Federal University of Santa Catarina was responsible for the low consumption circuits, while the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul took care of the high tension circuit – up to 7 volts, high tension in the world of microelectronics. The Federal University of Paraíba was responsible for the integration of the chip, and the Catholic University of Uruguay for the consultancy work on pacemakers. Genius coordinated the development of the software, the electronic part and the integrated circuits, while InCor was responsible for examining the device’s functional aspects. “We carried out tests on pigs such as atrioventricular blocking, the interruption of the conduction of the electrical stimulus on the heart,” states Idagene Cestari, Director of R&D of InCor’s Bioengineering Division. This stage was completed successfully.

“Pacemaker technology is old, but is currently dominated by a handful of companies,” explains Mario Ferreira Filho, Executive R&D Manager at Genius. At present, a mere five companies, one of which is based in Uruguay, meet the world’s entire demand for this product. In 2006, Brazil spent US$134 million on imports of pacemakers alone. During the 1970’s, InCor developed the first Brazilian pacemaker, which was encased in epoxy. A company was set up to manufacture them and 700 were put in patients. Production came to a halt because the company was unable to obtain the funding needed to continue working on technological development. Since then, there have been advances in technology as a result of micro-electronics, which has integrated a number of other functions into a smaller pacemaker.

During the first phase, the project received R$800 thousand in funding from Dixtal and another R$1.6 million from the Brazilian Innovation Agency – Research and Projects Financing  (Finep). “In the next stage, which is currently being negotiated, we will work on miniaturizing the current prototype in order to arrive at a pre-industrial prototype and begin clinical testing to confirm its effectiveness,” explains Ferreira Filho. It is estimated that it will take another two and a half years before the first pacemakers are ready. During this time, it will also be necessary to register the product with the National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Anvisa).