Using an inexpensive 3D printer, biomedical engineers at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, say that they have developed a custom-fitted, implantable device with embedded sensors that could treat cardiac disorders.

They created a 3D elastic membrane made of flexible silicon precisely shaped to match the heart’s epicardium, or the outer layer of the heart’s wall. Then, they printed tiny sensors onto the membrane that can precisely measure temperature, mechanical strain, and pH, among other markers, or deliver a pulse of electricity in cases of arrhythmia.

The researchers say that the sensors could help determine heart health, deliver treatment, or predict an impending heart attack before a patient exhibits any physical signs.

Each heart is a different shape, and current devices don’t generally conform to the geometry of a patient’s heart. With this application, the team was able to image the patient’s heart through MRI or CT scan, then computationally extract the image to build a 3D model that they can print on a 3D printer. They can then mold the shape of the membrane that will constitute the base of the device deployed on the surface of the heart.

They say that the membrane could be used to treat diseases of the ventricles in the lower chambers of the heart or could be inserted inside the heart to treat a variety of disorders, including atrial fibrillation. This approach would allow numerous points of contact and to correct the problem with high-definition diagnostics and high-definition therapy.