The cure for cancer has not yet been invented, but for the other big death cause, heart disease, there might soon be a way to fight it more effectively. A team at the school of engineering and applied science at Washington University in St. Louis is working on a system to predict a heart attack before a patient even shows any symptoms. Their 3D device will also be used to deliver treatment.
The team, led by Igor Efimov has been using an inexpensive 3D printer to create an implantable device to predict and treat cardiac disorders. They created a 3D plastic membrane consisting of flexible silicon material shaped to fit the heart’s centre of every individual.
Efimov explains: “Each heart is a different shape, and current devices are one-size-fits-all and don’t at all conform to the geometry of a patient’s heart. With this application, we image the patient’s heart through MRI or CT scan, then computationally extract the image to build a 3D model that we can print on a 3D printer. We then mold the shape of the membrane that will constitute the base of the device deployed on the surface of the heart.”
The team wants to use the membrane to treat disorders of the ventricles in the lower chambers of the heart as well as inserting it into the heart. The ultimate goal is to treat a variety of disorders. One of the disorders the company is hoping to be able to treat better using this technique is atrial fibrillation. Per year, as many as 3 to 5 million people are suffering from this illness.
“Currently, medical devices to treat heart rhythm diseases are essentially based on two electrodes inserted through the veins and deployed inside the chambers,” says Efimov. “Contact with the tissue is only at one or two points, and it is at a very low resolution. What we want to create is an approach that will allow you to have numerous points of contact and to correct the problem with high-definition diagnostics and high-definition therapy.”
Efimov also wants the membrane to hold a sensor to measure troponin, which is known to be the hallmark of a heart attack. The team published their findings in Nature Communications on February 25, 2014.
This story follows upon earlier news this week about scientists of the University of Louisville Physicians who were able to print out a 3D model of a failing heart of a 14-month-old, using thousands of cross-sections of hospital X-rays. They printed out three bigger cross-sections of the heart, after which it became much easier for them to find out where in the heart they would have to operate.
Image credits: James Byard/ Wustl photos.