Biomedical Engineers Team With Hospital Clinicians On Advanced Devices For Cardiovascular Treatment

Published: July 1, 2001

A 2-year-old collaboration between biomedical engineers at CU-Boulder and cardiologists at The Children's Hospital is starting to bear fruit with the development of several new miniaturized devices to assist doctors in the diagnosis and treatment of children with heart defects.

Approximately 1 percent of all children are born with some form of congential heart disease, which is generally treated through surgical and catheter-based intervention. About 10 percent of these cases involve complications within the right side of the heart.

Among the devices being developed by CU engineering faculty and students is a micro-electronic pressure monitoring system designed to send data from a patient's right heart ventricle to a portable external device worn by the patient. The system, which uses an RF transmitter to send signals from the body to an outside computer, is being developed specifically for children and could be used both before and after surgery to monitor cardiovascular function.

"There are two main advantages of this device," said Robin Shandas, who has a joint faculty appointment in pediatrics and mechanical engineering and directs the Cardiovascular Flow Research Lab. "First, it is portable and therefore allows monitoring of pressure without the patient being in the catheterization laboratory or intensive care unit. Second, it provides information regarding right heart pressure over a longer period of time than is currently possible."

Whereas current methods restrict cardiovascular testing to a hospital environment, with catheterized sensors snaking from patients to their bedside monitors, the new device would allow a patient's condition to be monitored at home.

"As transmitters have become more portable, we are taking it to the next step and trying to reduce the cumbersome equipment involved in this procedure," Shandas said.

Another device being developed is a micro-electronic sensor that accurately measures blood flow through artificial heart valves, which are used to replace damaged native valves. The device, which can predict valve malfunction caused by the build-up of thrombus, also provides portability and continuous monitoring through a system of remote telemetry. Shandas' research group has applied for a grant to manufacture the device, which could be licensed for use in patients in about two years.

Graduate students Luciano Mazzaro and Craig Lanning are currently working with Shandas on these and several other projects in the laboratory, which has grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Whittaker Foundation, the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association.

Based in the Cardiac Care Center at The Children's Hospital, the lab's location allows the researchers to interact closely with clinicians - both cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons - in the development of advanced devices that can make a difference in people's lives.

"It's a good feeling if you can do something that's helpful for patients," said Mazzaro, who is pursuing studies in biomedical engineering as an alternative to medical school.

Shandas has a doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of California at San Diego and spent two years in a physician training program. He is one of eight faculty from the College of Engineering and Applied Science who are involved in cardiovascular-engineering research through MicroElectronic Devices in Cardiovascular Applications (MEDICA), a joint research center established with the School of Medicine in 1999.

Biomedical engineering research has flourished at CU in recent years and now encompasses three joint research centers between the engineering college and the Health Sciences Center. The interdisciplinary work has provided many new opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, who can elect biomedical options offered in four different engineering departments - chemical, electrical, mechanical and aerospace.