Greatbatch's Pacemaker Technology One of Industry's Distruptors | Integer

Integer’s pacemaker technology called one of the industry’s most disruptive innovations

Integer Products, Wilson Greatbatch

What do stethoscopes, syringes, X-rays, balloon catheters, arthroscopy, 3D visualization and augmented reality for surgery, and artificial cardiac pacemakers have in common? According to Medical Design and Outsourcing (MD&O) magazine, they are the most disruptive medical device innovations of all time. In this case, “disruption” is a positive change, and Integer has been at the fore-front of developing disruptive medical technologies throughout its history.

When looking at the evolution of the pacemaker, other engineers and doctors developed and used devices before Wilson Greatbatch, but his battery powered designs transformed pacemaker technology. MD&O states “Implantable pacemakers were revolutionary, but they may not have become disruptive if not for the American engineer and inventor Wilson Greatbatch, who introduced lithium batteries for the devices in the early 1970s.”

In 1958, Mr. Greatbatch was working on an oscillator to aid in the recording of tachycardias when he inadvertently connected a 1 MΩ resistor instead of a 10 KΩ resistor to a circuit. He immediately recognized that this lower electrical current could power the implantable pacemaker he was designing and could ultimately drive a human heart.

Mr. Greatbatch enlisted Dr. William Chardack, chief of surgery at Buffalo’s Veteran’s Hospital, and surgeon Dr. Andrew Gage to test a mercury battery powered implantable pacemaker at the hospital’s animal lab. When the animal’s heart proceeded to beat in rhythm with the device, the design was proven to work and Dr. Chardack reportedly exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be damned.”

The trio, known as the “Bow Tie Team,” because all three wore bow ties, tested the device for another two years before attempting to use it in humans. In 1960 Dr. Chardack successfully implanted the device in a 77-year old man, who lived for two years before dying of unrelated causes. The Bow Tie Team successfully implanted pacemakers in fifteen more patients during the year. The device became known as the Chardack-Greatbatch pacemaker.

Mr. Greatbatch would go on to invent and patent the lithium battery design for pacemakers, and form Wilson Greatbatch Ltd. in 1970, the grandfather company of Integer, where almost sixty years later, that inadvertent resistor discovery continues to enhance the lives of countless patients worldwide.

Here is a brief look at the pacemaker’s history:

  • 1958 – A Colombian doctor and an electrical engineer constructs an external pacemaker powered by a 12 volt car lead–acid battery to connect electrodes to the heart of a 70-year-old priest.
  • 1958 – Earl Bakken, co-founder of Medtronic, produces the first wearable external pacemaker for a patient.
  • 1958 – Engineer Rune Elmqvist and surgeon Åke Senning implants the first clinical device into a human at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. The device fails after three hours, and a second device lasts only two days. The good news is that patient Arne Larsson lived for 43 more years after receiving 26 different pacemakers. His death at age 86 was unrelated to his heart, and he outlived both Elmqvist and Senning.
  • 1960 – Joseph Fleischhacker Sr., one of Integer’s founders, partners with Medtronic on the “Heart Pacemaker” where Lake Region manufactured miniature metal coils and wires to attach Medtronic’s pacemaker to a patient’s heart. The pacing lead coil is considered Integer’s first medical device-related product.
  • 1960 – A variation of the Elmqvist design is implanted into a patient in Montevideo, Uruguay by Dr. Orestes Fiandra, one of Integer’s founders, and Dr. Roberto Rubio. That device lasts until the patient dies of unrelated causes nine months later. Dr. Fiandra founds CCC, now part of Integer, in 1969 to manufacture medical devices.
  • 1960 – Drs. Chardack and Gage successfully implants what is later known as the Chardack-Greatbatch pacemaker into a 77-year old man.
  • 1960 – Medtronic begins producing the Chardack-Greatbatch pacemaker.
  • 1962 – Greatbatch receives United States patent 3,057,356 for the implantable pacemaker.
  • 1970 – Wilson Greatbatch Ltd. is created to design and manufacture medical devices and power sources.
  • 1972 – Greatbatch’s first lithium iodine battery powered pacemaker is implanted into a patient, disrupting the medical technology industry and enhancing countless patients’ lives ever since.

Today, 90% of implantable pacemakers and defibrillators worldwide contain Integer’s components, which speaks to the deep trust leading medical device companies place in our technologies. Our latest generation of implantable grade batteries are built upon unparalleled quality standards delivering safe and dependable power to millions of devices.