The main issue with pacemakers and other implantable cardiac devices up to now has been that they are generally either too rigid to accommodate a beating heart, or they are too soft, meaning they can only collect limited data.
Now, researchers led by a mechanical engineer from the University of Houston have released a new study detailing a new cardiac patch made from rubbery bioelectronics that can be placed directly on the heart to collect a wide range of information.
A soft implantable device compatible with heart tissue
The new patch, made from fully rubbery electronics, is able to collect electrophysiological activity, temperature, heartbeat, and other indicators of cardiac health all at the same time.
The new development marks the first time that bioelectronics have been developed based on fully rubbery materials that are compatible with heart tissue.
"For people who have heart arrhythmia or a heart attack, you need to quickly identify the problem," Dr. Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UH, explained in a press release. "This device can do that." Yu is also a principle investigator with the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH.
Powered by the human heart
Impressively, the patch harvests energy from the heart's beating, meaning it can perform without the need for an external power source. Therefore, aside from collecting vital information, the patch can also offer therapeutic benefits, such as electrical pacing and thermal ablation, the researchers say.
"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.
"Our rubbery epicardial patch is capable of multiplexed ECG mapping, strain and temperature sensing, electrical pacing, thermal ablation and energy harvesting functions."
The research, which may well prove to be a stride forward in heart disease treatment, was carried out by an international team based in the University of House, the Texas Heart Institute, and the University of Chicago.