Tailor-made medical devices could give a more detailed picture of cardiac health and may be better at predicting and preventing problems.
It’s a poetic fact of biology that everyone’s heart is a slightly different size and shape. And yet today’s cardiac implants—medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators—are basically one size fits all. Among other things, this means these devices, though lifesaving for many patients, are limited in the information they can gather.
Researchers recently demonstrated a new kind of personalized heart sensor as part of an effort to change that. The researchers used images of animals’ hearts to create models of the organ using a 3-D printer. Then they built stretchy electronics on top of those models. The stretchy material can be peeled off the printed model and wrapped around the real heart for a perfect fit.
The research team has also integrated an unprecedented number of components into these devices, demonstrating stretchy arrays of sensors, oxygenation detectors, strain gauges, electrodes, and thermometers made to wrap perfectly around a particular heart. For patients, this could mean more thorough, better-tailored monitoring and treatment.
One device in need of improvement is the implanted defibrillator, which is attached to a misfiring heart and uses readings from one or two electrodes to determine whether to restore a normal heartbeat by applying an electric shock. With information from just one or two points, the electronics in these systems can make the wrong decision, giving the patient a painful unnecessary shock, says Igor Efimov, a cardiac physiologist and bioengineer at Washington University in St. Louis.