3D Printed Membrane to Help Prevent Heart Attacks

Igor Efimov

3D printing is able to assist in complex surgeries, having been used to create prototypes and replacements, as well as aiding in reconstructive surgery. Now, this technology is making its way into cardiology.

An implantable 3D printed device that is able to monitor the heart may soon be a reality. A team at the Washington University in St. Louis is working on developing this device, which would be able to deliver treatment or predict heart attacks before patients shows any physical symptoms.

The team at Washington University is being led by Igor Efimov, PhD. The team has developed a 3D printed elastic membrane that is made from a flexible silicon material. This membrane is designed to match the heart’s epicardium, the outer layer of the wall of the heart.

The device is equipped with micro sensors that can measure temperature, health, and monitor the heart’s rhythm. The sensors would be able to assist in determining the condition of the heart, as well as alert physicians of a heart attack before any physical signs are noticed.

Every heart is unique and requires a device that can be custom fit to match the individual’s heart. Since one-size-fits-all obviously isn’t an option when it comes to the heart, the idea is to build a 3D printed model of the patients heart, based on MRI or CT scans, and then extract the image to create a 3D model that will be 3D printed. This allows the team to mold the shape of the membrane that will be the base of the device placed on the heart. This process ensures that the membrane will be designed to the exact specifications of the patient’s heart, ensuring a perfect fit.

Thanks to its high-tech micro sensors, this device could be used to treat heart diseases of the lower chambers in the heart, as well as other heart disorders.

“In the case of heart rhythm disorders, it could be used to stimulate cardiac muscle or the brain, or in renal disorders, it would monitor ionic concentrations of calcium, potassium and sodium,” said Efimov.

Efimov said that the membrane could even hold a sensor to measure troponin, a protein expressed in heart cells and one of the hallmarks of a heart attack. Ultimately, such devices will be able to be combined with ventricular assist devices, Efimov said.

“This is just the beginning,” he added. “Previous devices have shown huge promise and have saved millions of lives. Now we can take the next step and tackle some arrhythmia issues that we don’t know how to treat.”