Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a tiny catheter-based device that can be used to provide real-time 3-D imaging from inside the heart and arteries.
Details of the research were published in an article online in the February issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control.
"Our device will allow doctors to see the whole volume that is in front of them within a blood vessel," F. Levent Degertekin, professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, said in an announcement. "This will give cardiologists the equivalent of a flashlight so they can see blockages ahead of them in occluded arteries. It has the potential for reducing the amount of surgery that must be done to clear these vessels."
The device (pictured) integrates micromachined ultrasonic transducer arrays with processing electronics to provide 3-D intravascular ultrasound and intracardiac echography. According to the researchers, imaging devices operating within blood vessels can provide higher resolution than those outside the body, but they must be small and flexible enough to travel through the circulatory system and operate in blood.
With that in mind, the researchers miniaturized the elements of the device--the chip is just 1.4 millimeters in size. In addition, they carried out some of the electronic processing on the probe itself, reducing the number of cables that needed to be connected to the device and facilitating it's ability to be threaded inside the body.
"You want the most compact and flexible catheter possible," Degertekin said. "We could not do that without integrating the electronics and the imaging array on the same chip."
Degertekin and his colleagues expect to conduct animal trials to demonstrate the device's potential applications, and ultimately hope to develop a version that can be used to guide interventions in the heart with MRI.