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Hugging the Heart Electronically

Photo: The image of a heart surrounded by a stethoscope
The technology holds promise for
a new generation of implantable
devices; © Edwin Verin

Researchers have demonstrated a flexible silicon electronics device used for a medical application. The thin device produced high-density maps of a beating heart's electrical activity, providing potential means to localize and treat abnormal heart rhythms.

The emerging technology holds promise for a new generation of flexible, implantable medical devices, for the treatment of abnormal heart rhythms or epilepsy, as well as new flexible sensors, transmitters, and photovoltaic and microfluidic devices.

"The heart is dynamic and not flat, but electronics currently used for monitoring are flat and rigid," said Yonggang Huang, a senior author of the paper. "Our electronics have a wavy mesh design so they can wrap around irregular and curved surfaces, like the beating heart. The device is thin, flexible and stretchable and brings electronic circuits right to the tissue. More contact points mean better data."

In medical experiments the device was tested in a large animal model. The research team demonstrated that the electronics continue to operate when immersed in the body's fluids, and the mechanical design allows the device to conform to and wrap around the body's irregularly shaped tissues. The device uses 288 contact points and more than 2,000 transistors positioned closely together. Standard clinical systems usually have only five to ten contact points, according to the scientists.

By bringing electronic circuits right to the tissue, rather than having them located remotely, the device can process signals right at the tissue. This close contact allows the device to have a much higher number of electrodes for sensing or stimulation than is currently possible in medical devices. The device can collect very large amounts of data from the body, at high speed. Researchers will be able to map the body's complicated electrical networks in much more detail, with more effective implantable medical devices and treatments likely to emerge.

The current device is not wireless. The next big step in this new generation of implantable devices, say the researchers, will be to find a way to move the power source onto them. One solution could be to have the heart power the device.

MEDICA.de; Source: Northwestern University

 
 

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