This World Heart Day, everyone at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® is honored to welcome one of our newest Inductees: heart hero Robert G. Bryant.
Bryant invented a polymer called LaRC-SI (Langley Research Center-Soluble Imide), which is used as an insulation material for leads in implantable cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices. Read on to learn more about this impactful innovator.
Bryant was born in Chicago on April 30, 1962. He was delivered by his grandfather, George Kersey, who was the vice president of Provident Hospital where Bryant was born. “There are two neighborhoods that I grew up in,” he said in an interview with the National Inventors Hall of Fame. “The first one was on the South Side of Chicago [while] my father was a graduate student at Northwestern University in engineering. And when my father graduated, we moved up into Glencoe, Illinois.”
While his father worked as an engineering professor and industry consultant, his mother was a reference librarian. They both encouraged Bryant’s curiosity throughout his childhood. Recalling an early experience that helped fuel his interest in science, Bryant said, “I think I was going into first grade and I remember watching the whole space program on a little 9-inch black-and-white television. I remember seeing Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon.”
Bryant, who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts in 1974, enjoyed exploring the woods, taking things apart to see how they worked, building model airplanes and rockets, and reading the books his mother would bring home from work. Despite significant vision challenges caused by the genetic condition oculocutaneous albinism type 2, he built strong reading comprehension skills in his youth, which would later give him an edge in reading technical papers and books.
“My advice to kids is to read,” Bryant said. “Read as much as you possibly can.”
Enhancing Heart Devices
In 1985, Bryant earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Valparaiso University. He then joined the University of Akron as a graduate student, earning his master's and doctorate degrees under NASA’s Graduate Student Research Program (GSRP) as a fellow in polymer science in 1990 and 1995, respectively.
In 1990, Bryant joined the NASA Langley Research Center. Describing his experience there, he said, “I had the freedom to explore and to work on things and develop subject matter expertise in many areas I knew little about.”
As part of a team researching composite materials that could be applied in high-speed civil transport aircraft and lightweight rocket bodies, Bryant noted that one of his polymer formulations, LaRC-SI, remained soluble during polymerization. Following this unexpected result, he continued developing LaRC-SI while several NASA research groups explored potential applications.
Biologically inert and solvent resistant, LaRC-SI is ideal for use in implantable medical devices. In 2004, Medtronic licensed LaRC-SI and with Bryant serving as consultant, adapted the polymer as a coating and electric insulator for left ventricle leads – the thin wires attached to implanted heart devices that help resynchronize contractions and improve pumping efficiency.
LaRC-SI significantly enhances lead design, making them easier to implant and benefiting patient outcomes. It enables leads that are small and simple, yet highly flexible and reliable for the complexities of threading through a vein to the coronary sinus.
In addition to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Bryant is an Inductee of the NASA Inventors Hall of Fame and the Space Technology Hall of Fame. His many awards include NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal and NASA Langley’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also a three-time winner of the R&D 100 Award. Bryant holds 33 U.S. patents, over a dozen foreign patents and over two dozen commercial licenses to NASA. When asked what motivates him, Bryant answered, “Overcoming challenges. Discovering new and different ways of doing things.”