Using an inexpensive 3D printer, biomedical engineers are developing a custom-fitted device with embedded sensors that could transform treatment and prediction of cardiac disorders.
The team at the school of engineering and applied science at Washington University in St. Louis have created a 3D elastic membrane made of a soft, flexible, silicon material that is precisely shaped to match the outer layer of the wall of the heart.
“With this application, we image the patient’s heart through MRI or CT scan, then computationally extract the image to build a 3D model that we can print on a 3D printer,” said Igor Efimov, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Distinguished Professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University.
“We then mould the shape of the membrane that will constitute the base of the device deployed on the surface of the heart,” he added.
Ultimately, the membrane could be used to treat diseases of the ventricles in the lower chambers of the heart or could be inserted inside the heart to treat a variety of disorders, including atrial fibrillation.
The team can print tiny sensors onto the membrane that can precisely measure temperature, mechanical strain and pH, among other markers, or deliver a pulse of electricity in cases of arrhythmia.
Those sensors could assist physicians with determining the health of the heart, deliver treatment or predict an impending heart attack before a patient exhibits any physical signs.
Currently, medical devices to treat heart rhythm diseases are essentially based on two electrodes inserted through the veins and deployed inside the chambers.
“What we want to create is an approach that would allow you to have numerous points of contact and to correct the problem with high-definition diagnostics and high-definition therapy,” explained Efimov.
Recently, Google announced its scientists had developed a type of contact lens embedded with sensors that could monitor glucose levels in patients with diabetes.
Efimov says the membrane his team has developed is a similar idea, though much more sophisticated.
“In the case of heart rhythm disorders, it could be used to stimulate cardiac muscle or the brain, or in renal disorders, it would monitor ionic concentrations of calcium, potassium and sodium,” added John Rogers, director of the F Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Previous devices have shown huge promise and have saved millions of lives. Now we can take the next step and tackle some arrhythmia issues that we don’t know how to treat, stressed Efimov in the study published in the journal Nature Communications.