Katie Gibas has more on how the pacemaker was invented in Buffalo, New York in this Explore New York edition of Healthy Living.
One of the most influential inventions for cardiac care was invented in Buffalo, New York. The idea for the pacemaker dates back to the 1950s in Boston when Dr. Paul Zoll developed the technique to pace the heart.
"That really didn't get very far because it was rather painful and it was really only for short term pacing," said Dr. John Canty Jr., a VA cardiologist.
The work continued in Minneapolis where two doctors developed the first temporary pacemaker, which was an external device that connected to the heart with a wire.
"This was used for kids who had heart surgery who frequently developed heart block. While it got things going in terms of temporary pacing, it really didn't help patients who had slow heart rates because of health block," said Canty.
Not too long after, University at Buffalo Professor and engineer Wilson Greatbatch succeeded in developing the implantable pacemaker.
"An engineer, doctor Greatbatch who was rally working in his garage, the story goes, and stumbled upon circuits with the transistors that could time a pulse. The invention really was dependent on the development of miniaturized technology like transistors. Transistors were new then," Canty said.
With collaboration between Greatbatch, Dr. William Chardack, the chief of surgery at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Buffalo, and Dr. Andrew Gage the first pacemaker was successfully implanted in a human patient at the Buffalo VA in 1960.
"When the heart slows down, it can't pump as much blood and leads to fatigue. There are many people who have what we call heart block, where their own pacemaker goes at a rate of 35 or 40 beats per minute and it can't increase. There really wasn't anything at all that we could do to treat those patients. It's really something we rely on every day," said Canty. "Hundreds of patients, thousands of patients in Western New York have the devices. This allows them to lead a really normal life. It has no impact on what they're able to do on a daily basis. Other than when they go through the metal detectors in the airport, it goes off. It's considered one of the top 10 innovations into society over the last century. It's quite innovative, and it really was the beginning of the modern medical device industry."
The pacemaker laid the ground work for the development of implantable defribulators, diabetes insulin pumps, hip replacement, and artificial limbs. Greatbatch later invented the long-life corrosion-free lithium-iodine battery to power the pacemaker. He held a total of 350 patents which landed him the National Inventor's Hall of Fame. The device was licensed in 1961 to Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based company.
"With what's going on in Western New York with the health care industry here and the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical campus, I suspect if it was developed in 2015, the technology probably would have stayed here," said Canty.
Over the years, collaboration between engineers, physicians and patients led to advances in the technology to improve safely and efficacy.
Well over 2 million pacemakers have been implanted worldwide since 1960.