Steven Mickelsen, a third-year medical student, performed the research as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute-NIH research scholar, and reports a new technique in placing leads for cardiac resynchronization therapy:
Under the mentorship of Elliot McVeigh of NHLBI’s Laboratory of Cardiac Energetics, Mickelsen searched for a better way to position the critical leads, testing his new technique in small pigs whose hearts are about the size of a human’s. Using a catheter inserted through the pig’s jugular vein, he implanted pacing leads by puncturing the upper chamber of the heart to reach the pericardium, which is the fluid-filled sac around the heart.
This is the first time researchers have purposely punctured the heart and attempted to leave something-like a catheter or pacing lead-behind. “Cardiac puncture normally is considered a major complication,” Mickelsen explained. “Everyone avoids it.” Perforations can lead to bleeding that basically strangles the heart so it can’t pump.
But Mickelson and his colleagues found they could do it. They were able to insert a pacing lead into the pericardial space, and the puncture site healed with the lead in place.
They report on the study in the October issue of the journal Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology.
“The method described in this paper represents a very attractive alternative for pacing lead placement,” said Albert C. Lardo, director of the Image Guided Cardiotherapy Laboratory at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Clinical and animal studies in our laboratory have shown that there is an optimal location for lead placement, but in patients with slightly abnormal coronary vein anatomy, it is often difficult or impossible to position the lead ideally. In these patients, leads must be implanted in highly invasive open chest surgery.
“This new technique allows for optimal lead placement through a minimally invasive approach,” Lardo continued.
Mickelsen inserted a catheter through the pig’s jugular vein into the right side of the heart. Using x-rays to watch as he guided the catheter through the veins, he positioned the catheter just above the right atrium and threaded a long needle through the catheter. He then punctured the wall of the vein that leads into the atrium, one of the upper chambers of the heart, and inserted the needle and catheter into the pericardium, the sac that holds the heart. From there, he guided a thin wire through the hollow needle into the pericardial space. The catheter and needle were removed, leaving the wire in place. The wire was used to place the pacing lead on the outer wall of the left ventricle, or lower chamber, of the heart, which pumps blood into the arteries.
The main complication for the pigs was pericardial effusion, leaking of blood into the pericardium – which was not terribly surprising to the researchers. “No one had designed equipment for this purpose. We had to improvise with the tools that were available,” Mickelsen said. “We learned from this small series how to improve the approach.”
Press release by Howard Hughes Medical Institute…