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Rubbery implant harvests heart energy to monitor and treat disease

Professional Engineering

The rubbery patch can be placed directly on the heart to collect electrophysiological activity, temperature, heartbeat and other indicators (Credit: University of Houston)
The rubbery patch can be placed directly on the heart to collect electrophysiological activity, temperature, heartbeat and other indicators (Credit: University of Houston)

A patch made from rubbery electronics that mimic cardiac tissue can be placed directly on the heart to monitor activity and send pulses of electricity, its developers have said.

Led by mechanical engineer Cunjiang Yu at the University of Houston in Texas, the team’s device can monitor electrophysiological activity, temperature, heartbeat and other indicators at the same time.

The device marks the first time that bioelectronics have been developed based on fully rubbery electronic materials that are compatible with heart tissue, said associate professor Yu. The materials solve limitations of previous cardiac implants, he said, which are mainly made out of rigid electronic materials.

Pacemakers and other implantable cardiac devices generally have one of two drawbacks, a research announcement said – they are made with rigid materials that cannot move to accommodate a beating heart, or they are made from soft materials that can collect only a limited amount of information.

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

The patch uses a characteristic known as spatiotemporal mapping to simultaneously collect information from multiple locations on the heart. It can also harvest energy from the heart’s beating, allowing it to work without an external power source. That allows it to not just track data for diagnostics and monitoring, but also to offer therapeutic benefits such as electrical pacing and thermal ablation, the researchers said.

The bioelectronics patch builds on Yu’s work developing rubbery electronics for robotic hands, skins and other devices. The cardiac tissue-mimicking mechanical properties allow for a closer interface and reduce the risk that the implant could damage heart muscle.

“Unlike bioelectronics primarily based on rigid materials with mechanical structures that are stretchable on the macroscopic level, constructing bioelectronics out of materials with moduli matching those of the biological tissues suggests a promising route towards next-generational bioelectronics and biosensors that do not have a hard-soft interface for the heart and other organs,” the researchers wrote.

The work was reported in Nature Electronics.


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 

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