According to The Heart Foundation, more than 920,000 Americans will have a heart attack this year. But now, researchers have created a 3D custom-fitted elastic membrane that can be implanted onto the outer layer of the heart wall, which they say could predict the occurrence of heart attacks and "transform" patient treatment.
The research team, including Prof. Igor Efimov of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University, recently published details of the creation in the journal Nature Communications.
Using an inexpensive 3D printer, the creators were able to develop an elastic membrane made of a soft and flexible silicon material. This membrane is made to match the shape of a patient's epicardium - the outer layer of the heart wall.
The researchers then printed small sensors onto the membrane. These are made of semiconductor materials, including silicon, gallium arsenide, gallium nitride, metals, metal oxides and polymers.
The sensors are able to measure a number of markers of arrhythmia - a condition characterized by problems with the rate or rhythm of heartbeat.
Further explaining how the elastic membrane was created, Prof. Efimov says:
"We image the patient's heart through MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scan, then computationally extract the image to build a 3D model that we can print on a 3D printer."
Pictured is an example of the 3D custom-fitted elastic membrane.
Image Credit: Igor Efimov/Washington University
He adds that they then "mold the shape of the membrane that will constitute the base of the device deployed on the surface of the heart."
There are already similar devices available that are 2D. But the researchers say because such devices are unable to cover the full surface of the epicardium, they can produce unreliable results.
3D membrane 'could monitor vital organ functions'
The creators say the new 3D elastic membrane could help doctors predict the occurrence of heart attacks in at-risk patients and improve treatment.
Furthermore, the device could help treat treat a variety of heart disorders, including arterial fibrillation - a condition that causes an irregular heart rate.
Prof. Efimov says:
"Because this is implantable, it will allow physicians to monitor vital functions in different organs and intervene when necessary to provide therapy.
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."
It is possible, according to Prof. Efimov, that the membrane could even hold a sensor that measures troponin - a protein in heart cells that is believed to be a marker of a heart attack.
He says that in the future, devices such as the 3D membrane could be used alongside ventricular assist devices (VADs) - mechanical pumps that are used to support heart function and blood flow in individuals who have weakened hearts.
"This is just the beginning," adds Prof. Efimov. "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."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study detailing a new blood test that researchers say could accurately predict the risk of heart attack.
Written by Honor Whiteman