A £4m project led by researchers from the University of Bath is aiming to create a new type of smart pacemaker. The award from the Horizon 2020 Future Emerging Technology programme of the European Commission will enable the development, testing and validation of fit-and-forget bio-electronic implants that respond to data from the body in real time.

The CResPace (Adaptive-Cardio-Respiratory Pacemaker) consortium brings together academic researchers from the universities of Bristol, Zurich, Wien, Utrecht and Brno, and industrial research teams at US chip designer Microsemi (which has a research centre in Bristol) and medical devices company Medtronic.

The Bath team led by Dr Alain Nogaret (pictured above) has developed physical models capable of predicting neuron behaviour and small neural devices which have proved effective in reversing the effects of heart failure.  The consortium is now looking to expand on this research.

The technology helps with cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure and other conditions such as sleep apnoea and hypertension. It uses multiple sensors to provide a more physiological response for the patient and better diagnostic tools for the doctor.

Chaos is the answer

A key innovation is to make use of the principles of nonlinear, or chaotic, systems. These are common in biology where the outputs from systems do not vary proportionally to inputs. Designing a pacemaker using technology mimicking neurons will let the pacemakers respond to inputs nonlinearly, and therefore respond more realistically and appropriately for the patient. By processing data streams from multiple sensors the new devices will respond accurately to the patient needs.

The technology implements small neural networks known as central pattern generators (CPG). These multichannel neurons will be made to compete on analogue chips to get the best data, which will be fed into large-scale nonlinear optimisation tools. This will automatically find the best parameters for the neural networks and fed back to improve the performance of the pacemaker.

“This is an exciting research area where Physics and Physiology come together beautifully,” said Dr  Nogaret from the University of Bath’s Department of Physics. “This H2020 FET award recognizes the work conducted by the Bath team and its collaborators and the importance of combining sophisticated models with the latest advances in medicine to improve patient welfare.”

Microsemi will develop the ultra-low wireless links for the system electronics while Medronic will work with the University of Bath to develop advanced sensors. Dr Nogaret founded Ceryx Medical with Professor Julian Paton from Bristol University to make bio-electronic implants for heart failure and the grant will allow the technology to be taken to the next level.

Maths meets Medicine event takes place at the University of Bath on 16 March 2017.

Nick Flaherty