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This 3-D-Printed Membrane Could Keep Hearts Beating Indefinitely

The custom-fitted membrane, which wraps around the heart like a glove, could monitor the organ's vitals—and deliver a jolt of electricity during arrhythmia.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have 3-D-printed an electronic membrane worn on the heart that could keep the organ beating indefinitely.

The flexible custom-fitted silicon membrane wraps around the heart like a glove, and its embedded sensors can measure temperature, mechanical strain, and pH as well as deliver a pulse of electricity when the heart beats irregularly. It's possible the membrane, which could be used in patients in 15 years, could also include a sensor to measure troponin, a protein that, when released in high levels, could signal a heart attack. The video above shows a demonstration of the membrane over a rabbit's heart.

Igor Efimov, a professor at Washington University's School of Engineering and Applied Science, said similar existing medical devices have contact with tissue at one to two points. "Each heart is a different shape, and current devices are one-size-fits-all and don’t at all conform to the geometry of a patient’s heart," he said. "What we want to create is an approach that will allow you to have numerous points of contact and to correct the problem with high-definition diagnostics and high-definition therapy."