Novel Pacemaker Could Make MRI a Safe Option

MRI scans save lives by detecting diseases and identifying injuries, but for millions of people with pacemakers these important tests have been off limits.

By Crystal Muguerza, Matthew Glasser and Dr. Bruce Hensel
|  Thursday, Jul 3, 2014  |  Updated 6:30 AM PDT
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A first-of-its-kind pacemaker is being tested in SoCal that would be safe for MRI scans. Dr. Bruce Hensel reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

Dr. Bruce Hensel, Matthew Glasser

A first-of-its-kind pacemaker is being tested in SoCal that would be safe for MRI scans. Dr. Bruce Hensel reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

MRI scans save lives by detecting diseases and identifying injuries, but for millions of people with pacemakers these important tests have been off limits.

The magnet and radio frequency from the MRI damages conventional pacemakers, making it potentially dangerous for patients and sometimes impossible for doctors to read results.

That is why Dr. Raymond Schaerf of Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank is participating in a clinical study to test a new MRI-friendly pacemaker called the Accent, offering the device as an option to his patients. It is the first pacemaker in the U.S. that can scan any part of the body.

“There are various parts of the body that are very dependent upon on a good MRI to tell us what to do,” Schaerf said. “What we find is that of all people that get pacemakers or defibrillators, within 3 to 5 years, 70 percent of them can benefit with getting an MRI done.”

That could make it easier for doctors to diagnose and treat an illness or injury in their patients.

The Accent works alongside a wireless device used by the doctor. Before the patient gets an MRI, the device notifies the doctor if the pacemaker is safe to go through the scan. The doctor can also use the device to turn the pacemaker off temporarily, if necessary, or keep it on during the procedure.

The Accent is still in the first phase of testing, but Schaerf expects it to be widely available in the coming years.  

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