Here's another poke in the eye for people who gripe that the space industry is a waste of money: Technology originally developed by NASA as an insulator for spacecraft has been incorporated into a new implantable medical device designed to help ailing hearts.
It's the first time a NASA-developed material has found its way into an implantable medical device of this kind—though NASA spin-off tech has been used in everything from improved golf-ball aerodynamics to scratch-resistant lenses. Medtronic found a way to use the special super-insulating material in a newly FDA-approved cardiac resynchronizing device, which is designed to help patients with congestive heart failure by tweaking the contractions of the heart. To do this, the Medtronic Attain Ability—and other devices like it—send tiny electric pulses down fine wires that snake through the heart's left and right ventricles (as you can see in the image.)
The technique works well in terms of helping the heart pump more efficiently, but it's incredibly tricky for surgeons to place the lead in the correct position on the left ventricle...which is where the NASA tech comes in. The Medtronic device uses NASA's "super plastic" insulation, invented by Dr Rob Bryant, which has superior electrical isolation qualities that allow for the thinnest lead body of any resynchronizing device on the market. That in turn makes it much easier to position, which is clearly better for the patient on the operating table, and for their longer-term health.
This isn't Medtronic's first NASA dealing—a 1983 diabetes insulin pump from the company included tech developed by NASA for the Viking Mars probe. It's great to know that space tech has found such a beneficial use down here on Earth. One can only wonder what spin-offs from the upcoming Constellation program we'll see in a few years time.