Impact for patients

One Minute Insight

Theme lead for cardiovascular and respiratory disease, Professor Nick Morrell talks about the research in heart and lung disease

Case Study

The defibrillator that gets under your skin

Sudden cardiac death is a major public health issue occurring in more than 70,000 people each year in the United Kingdom; usually resulting when the heart beats with rapid erratic electrical impulses (known as ventricular fibrillation) and arising in a person with underlying heart disease.

Those at risk of sudden cardiac arrest can be given an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD), which sends shocks to the heart to restore normal cardiac rhythm. The ICD is placed under the skin and leads are passed through a vein into the heart. 

ICDs can cause problems when the device for example deteriorates or breaks down and then there is a risk for the patient. Researchers in Cambridge developed a subcutaneous ICD (S-ICD) which can be placed under the skin, removing the need for surgery or having the device wired up to the heart.

The device successfully completed clinical trials which resulted in European approval (2009) and FDA approval in the United States (2012) and is routine treatment in most UK Specialist Centres. Over 50,000 people have now benefited from the S-ICD worldwide.  In October 2013 the S-ICD was awarded the Prix Galien (‘regarded as equivalent Nobel Prize in biopharmaceutical research’) in New York as the ‘Best Medical Technology’.

Most guidelines now regard the S-ICD as an option of choice for most patients for both the primary and secondary prevention of sudden cardiac death.