I Spy for Heart Disease


Hey Dave, remember the movie, Fantastic Voyage that came out in 1966? Yeah, it was pretty cool. A sub and crew were miniaturized and injected into a guy's blood vessel so they could clear a clot and save his life. While we can't shrink people, we can shrink technology and its capabilities are making sci-fi a reality.

Today's miniature medical devices are lifesavers. You're right. There's the implantable telescope to improve vision; a vitamin-sized pacemaker; and now a miniature catheter to give surgeons a real-time look from inside the heart and blood vessels. This could potentially allow them to clear clots without major surgery. The device is smaller than the head of a pin with an ultrasound probe and a single chip processor. It can receive and transmit 3-D images on thirteen tiny cables down a flexible tube to a computer.

The prototype took sixty images every second using very little power which generates little heat. The images are unbeatable. It allows cardiologists a real time, high resolution image of the blood vessels forward, backwards, and of the sides so that they see exactly what the blockage looks like.

Now they rely on images taken from outside the body such as an MRI and CT scan. They give doctors cross sectional images which are just slices of the body and not a continuous three D image the new device offers.

The next step is to test the prototype on animals. The developers are also working to shrink the device even further to point four millimeters in order to see even smaller blood vessels. This new technology could be a great preventative intervention and reduce the one out of four Americans who die from heart disease.