A research team led by Igor Efimov at Washington University in St. Lewis has developed a stretchy, custom-fitted, implantable device that can give doctors feedback about life-threatening irregularities occurring inside someones heart. This photo shows sensors embedded in the silicon membrane that could provide stimulation to the surface of the heart. (Source: Washington University/St. Louis)
This is an interesting follow-up to another story I wrote about heart-valve technology that flexes like a real heart valve: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=272112
There is a lot of new innovation happening in the area of artificial heart technology and other technology to help people with heart problems, as well as technology to improve other artificial limbs. This one especially is really interesting, because it marks a possible breakthrough in treatment for people with chronic heart problems. I'd be curious to see what those in the medical field think about this.
Thanks Elizebeth for such an interesting post , No doubt 3d technology is being used for a number of good and life saving purposes . I was just aware that this technology is being used in medical in terms of transpants of the organs and dentistry but ths smart membrane is really very innovative method of detecting heart problems.
You're welcome, Debera. I didn't know this technology was used for other applications, so it's good to know that now. And yes, the heart application is really fascinating and could do a lot to help people with chronic heart conditions in terms of quality of life, I think.
That is a very interesting question, a2. I suppose when any information is sent wirelessly there are security issues, but I can't imagine they would not be addressed before these devices were used on patients. But these are good questions to be asking before the technology comes out of the lab.
The medical uses for the membrane are certainly remarkable. I assume the information collected would be sent over a Wi-Fi connection for doctors to review. So my question is, wouldn't that make it vulnerable to being hacked? I say this because heart defibrillators and pacemakers can be hacked to overvolt or dump their medicine, which would be detrimental to the patient.
Good question, Cabe. I think the connection would probably be secured somehow to avoid such scenarios, but in truth I don't really know. Something for me to follow up on with the researchers. Thanks for asking!
Excellent post Elizabeth. Several years ago my father, age 84 at that time, underwent emergency surgery for a heart valve replacement. He was a candidate due to his overall physical condition. Today he is 91 and probably has a stronger heart than I. Medical engineering and medical technology absolutely amaze me and the application of 3-D printing to these fascinating fields indicates what a marvelous place and future "addititive" manufacturing has. I really appreciate the information and had no idea engineers and doctors were working towards this type of preventative medicine.
Thanks, bobjengr, for your comment and the great story about your dad. I'm so glad to hear things went well and he remains so healthy. Some of these innovations are truly amazing and it's for operations like the one he had that this research is so beneficial. And as you mention, to prevent problems before operations like heart-valve replacements are necessary can lead to an even greater good.
In addition to applications in the heart area, perhaps other areas of the body could also benefit from this electrical technology. Maybe patients who suffer from certain conditions in the brain (such as epilepsy) could also use the monitoring and sensing provided by this development in the future.
Yes Greg, This is really a vast field and its just the begining . This technology will surely bring wonders in medical sciences and it will be a lot help to the patients who are suffering with chronic diseases .
That is a good idea, Greg. I am sure there would be some other considerations to the technology when dealing with the delicate conditions of the brain, but I am sure it could be modified to this area of the body. I just wrote about technology to help people with migraines that is used externally to stimulate a key cranial nerve (stay tuned--the story hasn't posted online yet) so maybe something like that could be modified for internal use for epilepsy or other disorders.
@ bobjengr, good to know your father weathered that valve replacement surgery and has stronger heart now. It seems good to have some heart problem and come out with stronger heart. On a serious note, application of 3-D printing to medical engineering is bearing fruit which is good and has great prospects in future.
Actually, bobjengr, you bring up a good point that I raised in a story I wrote awhile back on the Bionic Man: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=270180
There is an idea in the medical field that human replacement parts (prosthetics and other artificial parts) are not just making humans equal to the strength they had before the replacement, but actually stronger. So your dad would be a case in point--his heart may be even stronger now not only than his diseased heart, but even the heart he originally had from birth. So then there becomes an ethical question in medicine, whether it's OK to start making people not just whole again human-wise, but even super human.
I think it's quite an interesting debate, but personally think a lot of what medicine is doing in this respect is amazing.
I juat realized that it was AandY that brough up the point about the heart being stronger, not bobjengr, although it was his story that inspired it. (See my previous comment.) It doesn't matter who said it, really, but the point itself is valid.
Great post, Elizabeth, and a lot of good comments already. But I see a point not mentioned, or at least not that I noticed any mention, which is about getting the thing into place. Surgery to expose the heart is a very big deal action, no matter what the benefits would be. So is there some wonderful laproscopic process for placing the stretchable monitor? If there is, I certainly missed it.
But it certainly is an invention that has a lot of benefits to offer.
I don't know about the process, William K., I would have to look into it further. Yes, the operation certainly would be risky, as all surgeries are, especially when the heart is exposed. I imagine this type of thing would only be used in patients that really needed constant monitoring and for whom it would be more beneficial to have potentially dangerous surgery than not. Or perhaps there is a low-invasive way to insert the membrane. I will try to do some digging and get back to you.
The other question is about connections, which none are visible in the photo. It certainly is an interesting concept, and more details about the actual printing process would be both educational and potentially useful. The point about this being a stretchy design makes it quite unique indeed. Most designs are ridgid, typically, or a bit flexible at best. So flexible and stretchable is something quite new.
What is more interesting to me is that it opens new horizons for 3-D technology in the medical field. Several questions like cancerous cells are unanswered still and I wonder if medical engineering and technology using 3-D could help in those cases as well. 3-D has done a lot on the diagnosis side so far.
That's really interesting, AandY, how do you think 3D printing may help cancer cells? I guess if doctors could somehow fabricate healthy cells via 3D printing and replace cancerous ones with them, that could be one way. Of course, I am no doctor or medical expert in any way, so that sounds way too simple to actually be possible, I guess! But you're right in that 3D printing opens up a lot of doors fo the medical field.
Elizebeth, in terms of cancerous cells we can say that as kemitherapy is the solution for cancer but it is very hazardous as well so i guess 3D technology should do something or introduce any technology which act as a replacement of kemotherapy to reduce the side effects .
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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