Flexible electronics are a fairly new advancement with the promise of radically transforming certain aspects of medicine. Unlike many technologies that take years to reach practical implementation, flexible electronics are already being embedded to significantly improve the functionality of existing devices. As an early example that was just announced, an international team of researchers built and tested a balloon ablation catheter capable of measuring intracardiac pressure, EKG, and local temperature around the device tip. All this data can be monitored in real time by the physician during ablation without having to switch devices.
The technology behind the flexible electronics is being developed by MC10, a company we’ve been following for the last couple of years as they rush to bring new capabilities to medical devices.
From Northwestern University:
Central to the design is a section of catheter that is printed with a thin layer of stretchable electronics. The catheter’s exterior protects the electronics during its trip through the bloodstream; once inside the heart, the catheter is inflated like a balloon, exposing the electronics to a larger surface area inside the heart.
With the catheter is in place, the individual devices within can perform their specific tasks. A pressure sensor determines the pressure on the heart; an EKG sensor monitors the heart’s condition during the procedure; and a temperature sensor controls the temperature so as not to damage surrounding tissue. The temperature can also be controlled during the procedure without removing the catheter.
These devices can deliver critical, high-quality information — such as temperature, mechanical force, and blood flow — to the surgeon in real time, and the system is designed to operate reliably without any changes in properties as the balloon inflates and deflates.
Northwesten press release: Simplifying Heart Surgery with Stretchable Electronic Devices
Study abstract in PNAS: Electronic sensor and actuator webs for large-area complex geometry cardiac mapping and therapy