Entries in Pacemaker (3)


Can Your Insulin Pump Be Hacked?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Technology security experts have sent out a warning about the potential vulnerability of sensitive equipment -- not computers, but medical devices such as insulin pumps.

A researcher from McAfee, the global tech security company, was able to hack into an insulin pump and cause the device to dispense all 300 units of insulin it contained, according to BBC News.

The wireless signals used to communicate with the pump could compromise the security of the device, researcher Barnaby Jack said.

“We can influence any pump within a 300-foot range,” Jack told the BBC. “We can make that pump dispense its entire 300 unit reservoir of insulin and we can do that without requiring its ID number.”

A single dose of that much insulin can be fatal.

Jack wasn’t the first person to hack into an insulin pump.  In 2011, a diabetic experimenting with his own equipment identified security vulnerabilities that could leave these machines open to someone remotely controlling their readings.  He presented his findings at a computer security conference later that year.

Other devices that use wireless signals to monitor patient’s medical conditions include pacemakers and defibrillators, which are also vulnerable to attack.

While the potential dangers are very real, other experts say the devices are very safe overall.

“There is no silver bullet, it’s not that these problems are easy to address,” he said. “But there is technology available to reduce these risks significantly,” Kevin Fu, associate professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told the BBC.

Dr. Tadayoshi Kohno wrote about the security of these devices in a 2010 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.  At that time, he stressed to ABC News that the risk to patients is very low.

“I would have no qualms about getting one of the devices on the market now if I needed them,” Kohno said. “I think it’s preparing for the unexpected [that matters]....The last thing we want is, in five or 10 years, to think, ‘Oops we should have thought about security.’”

Outside of experiments, there have been no known incidents of medical device hacking, and doctors say using this type of equipment can life-saving.

“Manufacturers have to make them to an extremely high level of liability.  They are critical to life,” said Dr. David Lubarsky, professor and chief of the University of Miami Health System.  “Diabetes is infinitely more dangerous than the possibility of a hacker deciding to target your insulin pump.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Overcoming Pain: Can a Pacemaker Cure Migraines?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- Thirteen years ago Kelly Ampascher woke up with a massive headache. It was a crushing, nauseating migraine, and it's never gone away. Years of misery nearly wrecked her life.

"I was in a doctoral program and I had quit school...I had to leave my job," said Ampascher.

Doctors tried everything -- 44 different drugs -- and nothing worked. Then, Amspacher found Dr. Stephen Silberstein, a leading headache specialist at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson Hospital.

"About 40 percent of women aged 30 to 40 have had an attack of migraine," said Silberstein. He says women, with surges and dips in hormones, are more susceptible to migraines than men.

There are women who say they lost their jobs and can't function. Their family lives suffer.

"I hear it every day. We get the worst of the worst. Here people not only have bad attacks of migraines, but they have them almost every day," said Silberstein. "Their life is almost a continuous migraine hell."

Desperate, Ampascher learned that Silberstein was conducting a study that might offer a ray of hope. It was a wire that resembled a spaghetti noodle called a neurostimulator. It acts like a pacemaker and was implanted inside of Ampascher's body, just below her hip. Two wires were then threaded up her spine to the nerves at the base of her neck.

Whenever a migraine hits, she uses a remote control to send tiny electrical impulses which interrupt the pain signals shooting into her head.

"When I woke up from the anesthesia and they turned the unit on and found the appropriate stimulation settings...I noticed the pain was down to like a zero," she said. "I didn't have any pain at all."

"The concept is very simple," said Silberstein. "If you hurt your hand and you rub it, it feels better. That's because one type of stimulation turns down the pain."

Right now, the stimulator is only being used for the very worst of migraines, and while it is widely available in Europe, it is still in the trial phase here in the United States. But with half of the test patients reporting fewer headaches, this device offers long-awaited hope to those living with pain.

"We've had patients who've had pain every day of their life, they've had 60 or 80 percent improvement," said Silberstein. "They've got their lives back."

"It has freed me immensely," said Ampascher. "I am able to engage more with family and friends...I have gone back to being my outgoing, very perky self."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Headphones OK for Patients with Cardiac Devices

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A new study reveals that headphones for MP3 players are safe for patients with implantable cardiac devices, as long as they are kept two centimeters away from the device.

Study author Kok-Swang Tan, a research scientist at Canada's health department, examined the magnetic interference of direct surface contact with 21 different headphone models at varied distances.

Tan observed no magnetic interference with any of the headphones when positioned at a distance of two centimeters or more, or just over a half inch.

However, interference can occur when headphones are positioned less than 2 centimeters away from the heart device, regardless of headphone connectivity, Tan says.

"It doesn't matter whether the music player is on or off, or whether or not the headphones are connected to the player," Tan said.  "The static magnetic field in the headphones can still cause interference."

Tan presented his findings at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in San Francisco.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio