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Businessweek Archives

The Way Into An Arrhythmic Heart

Developments to Watch


EACH YEAR, SOME 250,000 Americans are struck down by ventricular tachycardia--an unexpected erratic beating of the lower, blood-pumping chambers of the heart. Using a single electrode probe to locate the source of the tachycardia during an episode may take hours, and that delay can threaten the patient's life.

But that may change with a new device scheduled to begin clinical trials soon in the U.S. The Arrhythmia Mapping System from Cardiac Pathways Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., is guided via a catheter through the aorta and into the heart's left ventricle. Once inside the chamber, its eight arms spread into the shape of a lemon-sized whisk, and 32 pairs of electrodes almost instantly measure how electrical impulses are being distributed throughout the heart.

Linked to a computer, the whisk locates damaged tissue, a cause of tachycardia, by detecting the tissue's abnormal electrical patterns. Doctors then insert another catheter that destroys the faulty tissue with heat generated by radio waves. Cardiac Pathways has conducted successful trials on four patients in the Netherlands, and the company recently received approval from the Food & Drug Administration for a preliminary study on 10 American patients, says Donald J. Santel, Cardiac Pathways' director of technical marketing. The U.S. tests are expected to continue for at least a year. The final product could be available in two years, says Santel.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top

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NEXT TIME YOU'RE LOST IN the mountains, look for a small helicopter the size of a station wagon flying your way--but don't look for a pilot. Your rescuer could be a robot helicopter from Carnegie Mellon University. Unlike other robochoppers, which are guided remotely by humans with TV monitors and joysticks, this one steers itself using global positioning satellites and advanced artificial-vision technology.

A team led by Takeo Kanade, director of the CMU Robotics Institute, based its Autonomous Helicopter Project on a commercial joystick-guided robot copter from Japan's Yamaha Motor Co. The CMU chopper navigates mainly from the U.S. government's global positioning satellites. But if it loses its satellite fix, it can determine its position with computer-linked video cameras that scan the terrain. Carnegie Mellon researchers say the choppers would be ideal for such boring tasks as inspecting remote utility lines. And they would fly fearlessly on hazardous missions. Perhaps Carnegie Mellon will even send a helicopter to explore a steaming volcano. Unlike its eight-legged predecessor, Dante, also developed at Carnegie Mellon, the flying robot is sure not to lose its footing.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top


REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS are on the attack against government programs to foster U.S. industrial research. House Science Committee Chairman Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) cites a recent General Accounting Office report that found government funding often wasn't necessary: Half of the applicants turned down for assistance from the Commerce Dept.'s Advanced Technology Program went ahead with their proposed projects even without federal funding.

A new study by the head of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lally School of Management & Technology casts doubt on the GOP position. Dean Joseph G. Morone says his study of innovation in companies indicates that government funding plays a bigger-than-expected role in fostering long-term research and development. Sure, he says, the companies might eventually do the research on their own nickel, but federal funds may significantly speed the process--and reduce companies' risk. One good example: Texas Instruments Inc.'s new display technology, in which images are created with a tiny chip containing hundreds of thousands of movable mirrors. The initial R&D effort was given a boost by the Defense Dept.'s Advanced Research Projects Agency.EDITED BY PETER COYReturn to top

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