The new catheter is covered in a mesh of hundreds of thousands of high-performance sensors and other electronics. It can be placed in the area of interest and inflated, making hundreds of thousands of contacts at once without the need to move it. When fitted with heating elements, it can also be used to perform the ablation—the destruction of the malfunctioning tissue—which normally requires the use of a second catheter. “You can keep it registered with the tissues and increase effectiveness and safety by being more accurate,” says Marvin Slepian, a cardiologist at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center, who led the animal trials and is a cofounder of MC10.
The temperature sensors in the catheter also enhance safety. If the heart tissue gets too hot during surgery, it can fuse with esophogeal tissue, causing a fatal complication called a fistula. Temperature is currently monitored during surgery using a probe placed in the patient’s esophagus. But by the time the tissue there heats up, it’s often too late, says Slepian.
The results of the initial tests of the catheter are described this week in the journal Nature Materials. Slepian is now leading tests of the sensor-covered catheters in larger animals and is testing their use as a way to map and treat more complicated arrhythmias in the ventricles of the heart. He says the company is still deciding what path to take toward clinical approval of the tool, pending continued successful tests in animals. If clinical trials are required by the Food and Drug Administration, he says, it will be a few years before the tool reaches the market.