A 3-D silicone 'heart sock' developed by scientists from the University of Alberta and the University of Illinois could eventually replace the pacemaker.
Hyun-Joong Chung, professor of chemical and mechanical engineering and John Rogers, professor of engineering and chemistry, respectively from the universities, said the stretchable silicone device could help monitor vital signs to help doctors pinpoint heart problems.
Chung said his role specifically involved developing the first stretchable multiplexing chemical sensor, namely a pH sensor with multichannel mapping ability, PTI reported.
He added, the pH sensor was embedded in the heart sock format, enabling real-time observation of the heart's chemical activities, the report said.
The researchers embedded 68 tiny sensors into a sheet of silicone that they fitted around a 3-D printed replica of a rabbit heart, with the circuits laid out in a curved, S-shaped design that allowed them to stretch and bend without breaking.
The heart sock physically resembled the shape of the pericardium, the naturally occurring membrane surrounding the heart.
The sensors in the soft, flexible membrane tracked vital signs such as temperature, mechanical strain and pH.
The design of the device allowed maintenance of a stable fit to the heart tissue, even while exerting minimal force on the contracting and relaxing heart muscle.
The heart sock could be used for identification of critical regions that indicated the origin of conditions such as arrhythmias, ischaemia or heart failure-information that could guide therapeutic interventions.
The finished design would feature electrodes capable of heartbeat regulation, like a pacemaker, and could also counteract heart attacks.
The team was now looking at ways for dissolving the implant in the body once it was no longer needed and finding the optimal way of powering the electrodes embedded in the device.
According to Chung many of the key technologies from this research could also find industrial applications, such as wear-resistant coatings for drills.
He said the next step would be to develop a novel processing pathway to fabricate non-conventional electronic devices.
The research has been published in two articles in Nature Communications and in Advanced Healthcare Materials.