Single chip device creates real-time 3D heart images

A new single-chip, catheter-based device capable of creating real-time 3D images of the inner heart, coronary arteries and peripheral blood vessels could potentially help surgeons perform heart surgery and clear patients' clogged arteries without major surgery.

The device uses ultrasound transducers with processing electronics on a single 1.4-millimeter silicon chip. On-chip processing of signals can transmit a plethora of data using just 13 tiny cables, in turn letting it easily travel through blood vessels. What's more, the device's forward-looking images can provide a lot more information than traditional cross-sectional ultrasound.

Researchers created and tested a prototype that can deliver image data at 60 frames per second. They plan to take it to the next step in animal studies that could lead to the product's commercialization.

F. Levent Degertekin, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, affirms that this research is beneficial to both patients and surgeons.

"If you're a doctor, you want to see what is going on inside the arteries and inside the heart, but most of the devices being used for this today provide only cross-sectional images," she explained in a news release. "If you have an artery that is totally blocked, for example, you need a system that tells you what's in front of you. You need to see the front, back and sidewalls altogether. That kind of information is basically not available at this time."

The device combines capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducer (CMUT) arrays with front-end CMOS electronics technology to provide three-dimensional intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) and intracardiac echography (ICE) images. The dual-ring array includes 56 ultrasound transmit elements and 48 receive elements. When assembled, the donut-shaped array is just 1.5 millimeters in diameter, with a 430-micron center hole to accommodate a guide wire.

The result is an object that is both small and flexible enough to fit inside a blood vessel, as well as able to provide valuable high-resolution images.

In the future, Degertekin aims to develop a version of the device that could guide interventions in the heart under magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and also to shrink it down even further in size.

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