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Flexible Device Attaches to Heart, Monitors Functions

Heart health

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

4 Nov. 2020. Biomedical engineers designed a thin flexible implantable patch that attaches to the heart, monitors its functions, and can perform therapeutics. A team from University of Houston in Texas describes the heart patch and demonstrates the device with a beating pig’s heart in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Electronics (paid subscription required).

Researchers led by Houston mechanical engineering professor Cunjiang Yu are seeking to improve on current implantable heart devices made of rigid materials that must be kept separate from the heart, since they cannot conform to movements of the heart muscle. And up to now, say the authors, devices made from flexible materials, more compatible with human heart muscle, can collect only limited data.

The authors note that “patches made from intrinsically soft materials lack spatiotemporal mapping or sensing capabilities.” Spatiotemporal mapping is data collection and display from a three-dimensional space over a period of time.

Yu’s lab studies the use in medicine of soft, flexible materials and films with sensors and other electronics. For this epicardial bioelectronic patch, the researchers designed a rubbery device made from PDMS, a silicone polymer material often used in medical devices, with mechanical properties similar to heart tissue that attaches to the heart surface. Integrated with the flexible patch are sensors made from silver nanoscale wires that measure temperature and detect strain on all heart muscle surfaces. And as a result, the sensors can collect data similar to electrocardiograms, or ECGs.

In the paper, the authors say the patch can also provide therapeutic functions such as electronic pacing to heart muscles, like today’s implanted pacemakers, and perform thermal ablation on heart circuits that misfire. Moreover, the device can harvest electric power from the continuously beating heart, removing the need for a separate power source.

“For people who have heart arrhythmia or a heart attack,” says Yu in a university statement, “you need to quickly identify the problem. This device can do that.”

The researchers demonstrated their epicardial bioelectronic patch on a beating pig’s heart in the lab. Pigs have hearts similar in size and function to humans. The team also show the device’s energy harvesting, electronic pacing, and thermal ablation capabilities.

Yu and colleagues also describe a rubbery bio-friendly polymer film with semiconducting properties in a paper published in September, in the journal Science Advances. That material, also made with PDMS, is rubbery, flexible, and allows for integration of nanoscale wire circuits, with the ability to stretch by 50 percent and maintain its conductivity. In addition, say the authors, the material is inexpensive to produce. The team in that paper demonstrated the material as an electronic skin on a robotic hand.

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