Many heart-related operations, including angioplasty surgery and valve replacement, are performed with the use of a catheter, a long instrument that is placed into a blood vessel. Since the blood is not transparent, catheter guidance relies on ultrasound. The generated images help decide where and what type of stent needs to be placed or provide information on the state of cardiac valves. Despite its benefits, existing catheter technology is outdated, requiring better functionalities and design at a lower cost.
Upscaling catheter technologies under an open platform
The EU-funded POSITION-II project has brought together leaders in the field with the ambition to revolutionise catheter production in Europe. “The idea was to generate an open platform that integrates technologies by different European companies and will help orchestrate the supply chain,” explains Ronald Dekker, from Philips Research and part-time professor at the Delft University of Technology. A pan-European benchmark introduced in POSITION-II will map technologies, avoid fragmentation and decide which ones fit different healthcare applications. The project focused on minimally invasive devices, smart catheters and implants, as well as technologies like miniaturisation, polymer encapsulation, wireless communication and MEMS transducer technology. Smart catheters for diagnostic purposes require electronic technologies as well as pressure sensors, ultrasound imaging at the tip, and electrophysiology features. All smart catheters on the market today employ analogue signal transmission, which makes use of many external wires. To improve signal integrity and communication, reduce assembly time and cost, the consortium materialised digitisation at the tip of catheters. Importantly, the digital interface accommodates high-speed transmission of big data currently acquired through imaging catheters. Further advancement of catheters with optical fibres may offer flexibility while avoiding metallic structures.
Biocompatible encapsulation of medical devices
Another area of focus of the POSITION-II project was the encapsulation of implants in soft biocompatible polymer-based material. Implantable devices, also known as bioelectronic implants, are expected to revolutionise therapy and replace traditional medicine by stimulating or blocking nerves directly going to organs. These devices employ the same technology as catheters but must be biocompatible to avoid unwanted side effects associated with prolonged use within the body. Examples include encapsulated electrical implants generated by Salvia BioElectronics to treat chronic migraine. The implant is very thin and delivers electrical stimulation to nerve cells. Another encapsulation application generated by the consortium involves the injection of stem cells as a regenerative approach to treat myocardial infarction.
Healthcare is edging towards personalised and preventive strategies that rely on medical care devices for continuous body sensing, minimally invasive interventions and smart drug delivery. However, apart from being easy to use, these devices must be cost effective. “Standardisation and collaborations through open platforms ensure that innovations are commercially viable and can advance the field of medical care devices,” emphasises Dekker. POSITION-II will contribute to the competitiveness, growth and sustainability of the European electronic industry. It will foster high volume manufacturing of the next generation of smart medical devices that can deliver better diagnosis and treatment.
POSITION-II, catheter, implant, encapsulation, open platform, MEMS, digitisation