University of Rochester

Researchers Team up with Famous Inventor to Combat HIV and Improve Pacemakers

March 1, 2001

Wilson Greatbatch, award-winning inventor of the implantable cardiac pacemaker and holder of more than 220 patents, will be teaming up with University of Rochester engineers and scientists to help develop MRI-safe pacemakers, as well as look into a new way to outsmart HIV. The research is happening in partnership with the new Rochester-based company GreatBio Technologies, Inc.-founded to develop Greatbatch's inventions.

"My decision to found GreatBio in Rochester was heavily influenced by the presence of the University of Rochester and its exciting innovations in bioengineering," says Mike Weiner, chief executive officer of GreatBio. "The University is poised to help Rochester become another center of innovation, like Cambridge and Silicon Valley."

Several engineers and doctors of the University of Rochester serve as scientific advisors to help GreatBio develop a new kind of pacemaker as well as an HIV therapy. Bradford C. Berk, chief of cardiology and director of the Center for Cardiovascular Research, Tom Foster, associate professor of radiology, of physics and of biophysics, and Kevin Parker, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and director of the Rochester Center for Biomedical Ultrasound are part of the GreatBio advisory board.

Today's pacemakers keep a patient's heart beating regularly, but they prohibit doctors from using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning techniques because the powerful magnetic forces will almost certainly disrupt the pacemaker. MRI scans are extremely useful for monitoring blood flow throughout the body, so keeping doctors from using MRIs is "a real limitation of today's pacemakers," says Greatbatch. "Our work in this area hopes to resolve this."

Vicente Planelles, an assistant professor of hematology and oncology at the University, will also work with the gene transfer division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GreatBio to develop another of Greatbatch's patents: an anti-HIV treatment called antisense technology. Antisense is a way to block HIV's biological functions, rendering it impotent. To carry the antisense technology to each HIV virus requires a transportation device that goes to the same places HIV does. Planelles is experimenting with another virus called SIV that mimics HIV in many ways, but is harmless. Ideally, modified SIVs would carry the antisense technology directly to every HIV virus in the body and then allow the antisense technology to disable it. GreatBio is funding the research under a Commercial Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), which allows industry, government and academia to work together.

In January, Greatbatch received the engineering profession's highest honor for 2001. For his invention of the first human implantable pacemaker, The National Academy of Engineering gave Greatbatch the Dolores H. Russ prize. Greatbatch shares the prize with Earl Bakken, who invented the externally worn pacemaker

Greatbatch has also received the National Medal of Technology, the MIT Lemelson Lifetime Achievement Award and is an inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Greatbatch's pacemaker and the corrosion-free lithium battery he designed for it were named one of the 10 greatest engineering contributions to society in the last 50 years by the National Society of Professional Engineers.