In a matter of years, a doctor may see real-time images of a patient's beating heart and steer a robotic catheter through its chambers using the push and pull of magnetic fields while the patient lies inside a magnetic resonance imager.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to perfect such technology over the next four years.
The project aims to improve treatment of arterial fibrillationan irregular beat that occurs when electrical conductivity in the heart short-circuits and can lead to a stroke or heart disease.
To treat the problem, doctors slip a catheter through a vein in the thigh up into the heart, where an electrode tip is used to burn, or ablate, the tissues involved in the short-circuiting. When successful, this allows the heart's electrical currents to travel smoothly, resulting in normal beating and blood flow.
But doctors sometimes have trouble maintaining contact with the target tissue. A beating heart moves the target, and flowing blood creates turbulence similar to airplanes through wind currents. The two-dimensional view produced through fluoroscopy imaging is often grainy or blurry. The result is surgeons sometimes burn more tissue than necessary, or not enough to eliminate the problem.
"With our technologies, we believe physicians will be able to accurately navigate and target tissues; they will see exactly where they are inside the heart in real time and see the tissues they are ablating in real time," said M. Cenk Cavusoglu, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and principal investigator on the project.
Doctors will still hand-feed the catheter from thigh to heart. But once there, the robotics will take over, Cavusoglu said.
To make a catheter robotic, the researchers have wrapped the inch behind the tip in tiny copper coils. By passing an electrical current through them, the
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Case Western Reserve University