Many minimally invasive surgeries rely on catheters inserted into the body through small incisions to conduct diagnostic measurements and therapeutic interventions. Physicians, for example, use this catheter-based approach to map and treat irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) often by locating and killing or ablating the cardiac tissue area that is causing the arrhythmias.

Though widely used in surgery, the current catheter-based approach has a number of drawbacks. The rigidity of today’s catheter devices means they do not conform well to soft, biological tissues, impacting high-fidelity mapping of an organ’s electrophysiological signals. Current devices make contact with only a small part of an organ at a time, making it necessary to constantly move a probe around, lengthening medical procedures. Current catheter systems are also limited in the number of functions they can perform, requiring physicians to use multiple catheters in a single ablation procedure.

Additionally, long procedures — for example, to locate and ablate tissues causing arrhythmias — risk exposing both patient and physician to potentially damaging X-rays, as physicians rely on X-ray images during the course of the surgery to guide their catheters. To address these problems, researchers developed a new class of medical instruments equipped with an advanced soft electronics system that could dramatically improve the diagnoses and treatments of a number of cardiac diseases and conditions.

Researchers applied stretchable and flexible matrices of electrode sensors and actuators, along with temperature and pressure sensors, to a balloon catheter system often used in minimally invasive surgeries or ablations to treat conditions such as heart arrhythmias.

The new system, which conforms better to the body’s soft tissue than current devices, can perform a variety of functions including simultaneous in vivo measurements of temperature, force of contact, and electrophysiological parameters; the ability to customize diagnostic and therapeutic functions; and real-time feedback. The new system can also dramatically reduce the length of invasive ablation procedures and exposure of patients and doctors to X-ray radiation.

The new class of instruments will allow physicians to acquire a rich set of electro-physiological information and to complete surgeries in shorter times with a single instrumented catheter system. By outfitting a balloon catheter with advanced organ conformal electronic components, sensors, and actuators, the researchers overcame the flaws of current systems.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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