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The Dish

Pace4Life: Re-Using Pacemakers

Pace4Life aims to save thousands of lives in developing nations by reusing a currently wasted resource: tiny pacemakers that help regulate the heartbeat.

According to Science Daily, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease is expected to increase 137 percent between 1990 and 2020 for those living in low- and middle- income countries.

In fact, it is predicted that as many as 1 million people worldwide die annually from slow heart rates.

Historically, the prevalent need for pacemakers has been neglected in the developing world due to the cost and inaccessibility to health care.

A start-up, Pace4Life, seeks to change this by promoting the collection of pacemakers that are currently discarded, and reusing them for impoverished individuals.

We spoke with the Founder of Pace4Life, Balasundaram Lavan, to learn more about this innovative initiative.

“The idea for Pace4Life came out of a chance conversation with a mortuary pathologist who mentioned in passing that the cupboards in her lab were being cluttered up with discarded pacemakers,” says Lavan.

“Currently, pacemakers are removed prior to cremation and either thrown away or discarded into boxes and stock piled over years, laying waste across funeral parlours, mortuaries and hospitals across the world.”

Pace4Life is creating a central organization that obtains pacemakers for evaluation and subsequent sterilization, creating a global distribution network for safe reuse.

In the 21st century, the healthcare disparities between the industrialized world and underdeveloped countries have become all too apparent with cardiovascular disease having an increasing impact on death rates.

By developing links with established teaching hospitals and medical charities around the world, Pace4Life is creating a new method of delivering normally costly healthcare to impoverished countries and individuals.

“Some foreign manufacturers have reduced the cost of pacemakers to as little as $800, a price that still makes it out of reach in poor nations,” says Dr. Kim Eagle, cardiologist and a director of the U-M Cardiovascular Center. “Despite the substantial cost reduction, a new pacemaker is often more than the annual income of the average worker in underdeveloped nations.”

“Since ~50 percent of the pacemakers cannot be reused due to their battery life, we are exploring recycling the titanium shells, as well as small bits of silver and gold,” Lavan said to Design With Benefits.

“Selling parts for recycling, in addition to the reuse of pacemakers in animals (cat, dogs, and horses) will potentially provide Pace4Life with alternative sources of funding, and in turn increase the number of pacemakers we can implant."

According to Lavan, Pace4Life aims to eventually create a free global distribution network and bridge the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged, one pacemaker at a time.

Most recently Pace4Life received over 250+ pacemakers donated via a local Funeral Director. As they look to go live, first implantations are scheduled for May 2013 in Ghana, in conjunction with their partners The University of Michigan (pioneers in pacemaker reuse research) and their parallel Project My Heart, Your Heart.

To find out more you can contact lavan@pace4life.org / Pace4Life Website