By Erik Derr ( | First Posted: May 10, 2013 07:24 PM EDT

(Photo : Creative Commons)

A 14-year-old researcher, working on her project for a science fair, has discovered Apple Inc.'s iPad2 can interfere with life-saving heart devices.

Gianna Chien, a high school freshman in Stockton, California, has found when people with implanted defibrillators use an iPad2, there's a risk magnets inside the tablet computer's cover may turn their heart devices off.

The research, as reported by Bloomberg, provides an important warning for people with implanted defibrillators, which deliver an electric shock to restart a stopped heart, said John Day, head of heart-rhythm services at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, during a telephone interview.

 "Defibrillator patients can still buy Apple products," he said. "Just don't put them on your chest."

The computer magnets only pose a threat if a defibrillator user places an iPad2 on his or her chest, found Chien, whose father is a cardiac electrophysiologist.

"I definitely think people should be aware," she said, which is why Chien submitted her findings to be presented at the annual meeting of the 8,000-member Heart Rhythm Society, being held now in Denver.

As a safety precaution, defibrillators are designed to be turned off by magnets and the iPad2 uses 30 magnets to hold its cover in place, Chien said.

And while the iPad2 magnets aren't strong enough to cause problems when a person is holding the tablet even in front of the chest, they can trip a heart device when they are placed right next to one's body, she explained.

Most defibrillators will turn back on once the magnet is no longer in proximity to them, but some remain off until the magnet is reapplied or the device is turned back on manually, Chien reported.

Trudy Muller, an Apple spokeswoman, declined to comment on the study in an e-mail, instead referring questions about the iPad2's safety to its online product guide --- which in fact cautions users about radio frequency interference, suggests that patients with pacemakers keep iPad units at least six inches away and advises the computer should be turned off in health-care facilities when instructed to do so by staff or posted signs.

Chien said she received an iPad2 for her birthday in August 2011 and, as a result of her father's medical influence on her way of looking at things, was struck at the time by the number of older customers taking a class on how to use the device at the company store.

She wondered if there could be a link between the iPads and heart devices.  

So, she set out to explore the issue a science project for the San Joaquin County Science Fair, which was held in March.

Her study involved 26 volunteers with defibrillators and found the magnets affected the heart devices in 30 percent of the study subjects who put the tablet on their chest.

Chien was assisted in the patient testing by her father, Walter.

Medtronic Inc., the top defibrillator manufacturer, said its testing found no risks from iPad technology when used according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The Minneapolis-based company tells clients to avoid placing any magnets near the area where their heart devices are implanted.

"The presentation at Heart Rhythm 2013 is a good reminder for patients to remain vigilant on new technology and its accessories and maintain a distance of six inches between an iPad and an implanted pacemaker or ICD," the company said in a statement.

Chien regularly attends  Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth, where she participates in the writing program.

The actual writing and summing up the results was the aspect of the iPad2 project she enjoyed most, said Chien, who added she hopes to write a novel.

And the science fair? Chien's project placed behind the winning experiment, an examination of how the placement of punctuation marks on a keyboard affect carpal tunnel syndrome.  

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