Surgery for a common type of cardiac arrhythmia could be quicker thanks to Dae-Hyeong Kim, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Seoul National University. Kim has built a balloon catheter that can expand to one centimeter in diameter and is equipped with 150 nanometer-thin metal wires that connect to 13 electrodes. Pushed through blood vessels, this device allows a surgeon to detect electrical misfires in 13 patches of heart tissue at a time and use radio energy to blast any patch where a misfire is found. Previously, surgeons had to detect misfiring regions one by one with a single wire and then zap any problems with a second wire.
The catheter is just one application of Kim’s bendable, stretchable high-performance silicon electronics, which could be used in everything from prosthetic neural interfaces to brain implants for controlling Parkinson’s. Devices made from the materials are sensitive enough to detect subtle changes in human physiology, while the wiring is tough enough to deliver cell-zapping energy.
Kim’s catheter is now being tested in pigs. Another of his devices, a flexible sheet of electrodes that can be draped over delicate tissues, has been used to map abnormalities in the brains of epileptic cats. Both are under development by the startup MC10. —David Talbot