Georgia Tech’s Woon-Hong Yeo has developed a proof of concept, flexible, stretchable sensor that can continuously monitor hemodynamicswhen integrated with a stent like flow diverter after a brain aneurysm. Blood flow is measured using capacitance changes.
According to Pittsburgh professor Youngjae Chun, who collaborated with Yeo, “We have developed a highly stretchable, hyper-elastic flow diverter using a highly-porous thin film nitinol,” Chun explained. “None of the existing flow diverters, however, provide quantitative, real-time monitoring of hemodynamics within the sac of cerebral aneurysm. Through the collaboration with Dr. Yeo’s group at Georgia Tech, we have developed a smart flow-diverter system that can actively monitor the flow alterations during and after surgery.”
The goal is a batteryless, wireless device that is extremely stretchable and flexible that can be miniaturized enough to be routed through the tiny and complex blood vessels of the brain and then deployed without damage According to Yeo, “It’s a very challenging to insert such electronic system into the brain’s narrow and contoured blood vessels.”
The sensor uses a micro-membrane made of two metal layers surrounding a dielectric material, and wraps around the flow diverter. The device is a few hundred nanometers thick, and is produced using nanofabrication and material transfer printing techniques, encapsulated in a soft elastomeric material.
“The membrane is deflected by the flow through the diverter, and depending on the strength of the flow, the velocity difference, the amount of deflection changes,” Yeo explained. “We measure the amount of deflection based on the capacitance change, because the capacitance is inversely proportional to the distance between two metal layers.”
Because the brain’s blood vessels are so small, the flow diverters can be no more than five to ten millimeters long and a few millimeters in diameter. That rules out the use of conventional sensors with rigid and bulky electronic circuits.
“Putting functional materials and circuits into something that size is pretty much impossible right now,” Yeo said. “What we are doing is very challenging based on conventional materials and design strategies.”
The researchers tested three materials for their sensors: gold, magnesium and the nickel-titanium alloy known as nitinol. All can be safely used in the body, but magnesium offers the potential to be dissolved into the bloodstream after it is no longer needed.
The proof-of-principle sensor was connected to a guide wire in the in vitro testing, but Yeo and his colleagues are now working on a wireless version that could be implanted in a living animal model. While implantable sensors are being used clinically to monitor abdominal blood vessels, application in the brain creates significant challenges.
“The sensor has to be completely compressed for placement, so it must be capable of stretching 300 or 400 percent,” said Yeo. “The sensor structure has to be able to endure that kind of handling while being conformable and bending to fit inside the blood vessel.”