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Heart rate monitor ECG

Heart disease detected by body-powered electronic rubber patch

Image credit: Dreamstime

Scientists have created a patch made from rubbery electronics that can be placed directly onto the heart to collect data that can help treat heart disease.

The flexible patch is capable of measuring electrophysiological activity, temperature, heartbeat and other indicators, all at the same time.

The University of Houston team behind the project said their device is the first of its type to be based on fully rubbery electronic materials that are compatible with heart tissue, which allows it to solve the limitations of previous cardiac implants which are mainly made of rigid electronic materials.

“For people who have heart arrhythmia or a heart attack, you need to quickly identify the problem,” researcher Cunjiang Yu said. “This device can do that.”

In addition to the ability to simultaneously collect information from multiple locations on the heart - a characteristic known as spatiotemporal mapping - the device can harvest energy from the heart beating, allowing it to perform without an external power source.

That allows it to not just track data for diagnostics and monitoring, but to also offer therapeutic benefits such as electrical pacing and thermal ablation, the researchers reported.

The epicardial bioelectronics patch builds upon that with a material with mechanical properties that mimics cardiac tissue, allowing for a closer interface and reducing the risk that the implant could damage the heart muscle.

“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 said.

“Our rubbery epicardial patch is capable of multiplexed ECG mapping, strain and temperature sensing, electrical pacing, thermal ablation and energy harvesting functions.”

Last year, an AI tool was developed that can help to identify people at high risk of a fatal heart attack at least five years before it strikes.

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