Flexible electronic heart patch keeps ticker on track

Engineers in the US have developed a flexible cardiac implant that could be used to diagnose and treat arrhythmia and other heart problems.

heart patch
(Credit: University of Houston)

Developed at the University of Houston, the rubbery patch simultaneously collects electrophysiological activity, temperature, heartbeat, as well as other indicators.

According to the researchers, implantable heart devices have previously had to make compromises, with flexible patches collecting limited types of data, and more rigid implants not being pliable enough to operate in tandem with a beating heart.

In the study, published in Nature Electronics, the Houston team claims this is the first time a cardiac implant like this has been made using fully rubbery electronic materials that are compatible with heart tissue.

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“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 material used to make the patch closely mimics that of the heart itself, meaning a lower risk of damage to the muscle. As well as spatiotemporal mapping – the ability to collect data from different parts of that heart at the same time – the implant harvests its power requirements from the heart’s beating motion, requiring no external power source. This means that the device could be used not only for diagnosis and monitoring but also for therapeutic uses such as electrical pacing and thermal ablation, where temperature changes are used to try and correct irregular heart rhythms.

“For people who have heart arrhythmia or a heart attack, you need to quickly identify the problem,” said corresponding author Cunjiang Yu, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston. “This device can do that.”