Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack, but a breakthrough new device that fits around your heart like a sock could revolutionize how heart disease is treated forever, reports Smithsonian.
Developed by John Rogers, the 2013 Smithsonian American Ingenuity award winner in physical sciences, the "heart sock" fits snugly over the entire surface area of your heart and is capable of monitoring virtually every useful statistic regarding your heart's health with uncanny precision. When it detects an abnormality, it can transmit that information directly to your doctor. In an emergency, the device is even capable of "massaging" your heart back to life with electrode-induced pulses.
Though pacemakers or defibrillator implants have proven to be an effective surgical solution for patients with dangerous heart irregularities, there remains plenty of room for improvement. Rogers' heart sock encloses the heart in a much more sophisticated sensory system than is possible with any other current technology. Because it creates such a close fit around the heart, it can pinpoint exactly where a rhythmic irregularity occurs.
"With a lot of electrodes, the device can pace and stimulate in a more targeted fashion," explained Rogers. "Delivering heat or pulses to specific locations, and doing it in measurable doses that are just sufficient enough, is important because applying more than necessary is not only painful but can damage the heart."
The device achieves such a perfect fit thanks to the precision of 3-D printing technology. For the prototype, a plastic model of a rabbit's heart was made. A web of 68 tiny electronic sensors were placed over the mold, and it was coated with a layer of FDA-approved silicone rubber material. The custom-prepared polymer was then peeled off after the rubber set.
"The tricky thing here is that the membrane needs to be sized in a way that it can create just enough pressure to keep the electrodes in sufficient contact with the surface," said Rogers. "Pressing too hard will cause the heart to respond in a negative way. It needs to fit just right."
The elasticity of the heart sock allows for the placement of a wide array of other electronic and non-electronic sensors too, such as sensors that monitor calcium, potassium and sodium levels, changes in mechanical pressure, temperature and pH levels. Essentially, the device should be able to detect a heart attack before it even starts.
Rogers is currently looking into hooking the device up via Bluetooth so that data can be transmitted wirelessly to a doctor. Potentially, patients could eventually monitor their own heart activity with their smartphones.
About a decade worth of further study, development and experimental trials will be needed before Rogers' heart sock can be made available to human patients, but the technology is already showing great promise when fitted to rabbit hearts. It's certainly a promising technology, and it provides a beacon of hope for the millions of people around the world currently suffering from heart disease.
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