Electronic membrane could provide high-res heart care


February 27, 2014

A beating rabbit's heart, fitted with one of the membranes (Photo: Igor Efimov)

A beating rabbit's heart, fitted with one of the membranes (Photo: Igor Efimov)

When it comes to monitoring the electrical activity of the heart, or delivering electrical stimulation to it (as in the case of pacemakers), most current technologies rely on electrodes that make contact with the organ in just a few locations. That doesn't necessarily provide a very detailed picture of what's going on, nor does it deliver stimulation all that evenly. Now, scientists have created a sensor-laden three-dimensional elastic membrane that can be pulled over the whole heart, to provide a large number of contact points.

The device was created by an international team of scientists led by Dr. Igor Efimov at Washington University in St. Louis, and Dr. John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

To create the experimental prototype, they started by scanning a rabbit's heart. With human patients, this could be done via MRI or CT scan. Using that data, they proceeded to create a 3D-printed life-size model of the heart – not unlike the one recently created at the University of Louisville, to aid in heart surgery on a child. That model was then used to mold the membrane, to ensure a custom fit over the epicardium (the outer wall) of the real heart. The tiny interconnected sensors embedded in the membrane were applied using a transfer printing technique.

Finally, the membrane was pulled onto the heart, which was made to beat in a lab test.

Along with electrodes for stimulating the heart to correct arrhythmia, clinical versions of the membrane could also include sensors for monitoring parameters such as temperature, mechanical strain, pH or troponin levels, the last of which is a protein which indicates that a heart attack is imminent.

Additionally, the membranes could be fitted to other organs besides the heart. On the kidneys, for instance, they could be used to monitor concentrations of calcium, potassium and sodium.

A paper on the research was published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
1 Comment

This is a stunning development which could make a huge difference to many lives. Great article, Ben, thanks!

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