MANHASSET, N.Y. After having gone through painful reorganization in recent years, IBM is looking at medical electronics as one of its future growth markets.
On Wednesday (May 31), IBM announced a collaboration with St. Jude Medical Inc. (St. Paul, Minn.) to produce the St. Jude Medical Merlin Patient Care System, a portable system that programs the medical center’s implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pacemakers.
Working with St. Jude from early design through volume production, IBM provided hardware and technological IP to help St. Jude Medical’s team develop the state-of-the-art system which enables physicians to conduct tests, analyze therapeutic and diagnostic data, and program implanted devices more efficiently.
The Merlin Patient Care System received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April, following a development effort where St. Jude Medical consulted with the engineers of IBM’s recently formed Technology Collaboration Solutions unit.
The hardware IBM contributed revolves around a PC platform based on the company’s ThinkPad computer, supported a medical-grade power supply. The hardware supports Merlin’s graphical user interface and a Linux-based operating system.
Merlin vastly improves upon an earlier version of St. Jude’s patient care systems by providing a larger display, faster boot-up, and higher performance, according to Marinda Gansmoe, technology collaborations solutions engineering consultant for IBM, during an interview with EE Times.
The system is a portable device, no larger than a small suitcase, that communicates with the implanted device through RF, said Gansmore. It is just one of a number of products IBM has allied with medical companies to design and produce as more medical devices comprise complex electronics.
Besides the Merlin patient care system, IBM has collaborated with the Mayo Clinic to bring a portable MRI device to market in just 8 month rather than the usual 18 to 24 months. The company has worked with Bang and Olufsen Medicom on a wireless ‘pill counter’ that informs both patients and doctors of medicines that need to be taken and tracks medications that have been taken.
In addition, IBM has worked with Medtronic on a custom pacemaker monitor and programmer.
"IBM is bolstering its involvement in the medical area," said Gansmoe. "We realize many of our clients requiring engineering expertise."
Gansmoe noted the Merlin system is one of the first products produced by the Technology Collaboration Solutions unit, integrating the efforts of other IBM groups including Microelectronics, Technology Development and Manufacturing, System and Technology Group Intellectual Property, Next-Generation Telecommunications, Engineering & Technology Services, and OEM System Sales.
As part of a seven-year collaborative agreement between IBM and St. Jude, IBM will act as the business liaison with the third party contract manufacturer who will manufacture the patient care system.
In turn, St. Jude Medical will distribute the system to clinics, hospitals and medical facilities worldwide starting this month.