World's smallest pacemaker will be tested in space

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Source: Medtronic

A high school student’s personal inspiration leads to a high-flying science project.

A Nebraska teenager’s science project will soon take one of healthcare’s most innovative products into space.

17-year-old Shelbi Klingsporn’s idea – to test the effects of high radiation and low temperatures on the world’s smallest pacemaker during spaceflight – will liftoff from NASA’s facility in Virginia on June 22. The inspiration for her project was personal. 

Shelbi knows more than most teenagers about pacemakers, because one of her friends needed one at an early age. So after reading about Micra, the new miniaturized pacemaker made by Medtronic, Shelbi launched her idea.

As part of a school assignment, she submitted a proposal to Cubes in Space, a private education program that, in partnership with NASA, encourages educators around the world to engage students in science and space exploration. Students submit technical diagrams and written proposals explaining why their experiment should be launched into space. “I had to get out of my comfort zone and ordinary thinking. I had to be unique and the teachers really encouraged me,” Shelbi said.

Shelbi and her teachers reached out to Medtronic, and several members of the Micra team gave her advice and background information about the device. “They were a terrific help,” she said.

Learning Opportunity for Medtronic

The experiment will stretch testing boundaries for Medtronic, said senior program manager Wade Demmer. Vibrations during the rocket flight are “worse than a paint shaker,” Demmer said, and the landing could be rough. But, the Medtronic team hopes Micra will still function after the flight and engineers will thoroughly examine it afterward to see what they can learn. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity for us,” Demmer said. “The flight conditions go beyond what we test for on Earth. The idea that we might learn something that could impact the future of medical device development is very exciting.”

Why Micra? The experiment must fit into a 4x4x4 centimeter cube for the approximately ten-minute flight. Micra, which is 93 percent smaller than conventional pacemakers and about the size of a large vitamin, is small enough to fit inside the cube. Cubes in Space picks up to 80 winners, which are launched every year into space on board a NASA sounding rocket.

Shelbi, along with her science and English teachers from the Valley Alternative Learning Transitioning School in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, will attend the launch in Virginia. Shelbi will give a presentation about her experiment on Wednesday, June 21 at the NASA facility. Liftoff is currently scheduled to happen between 5:30 and 8:30 AM on Thursday, June 22. You can watch it live, courtesy of NASA.

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