Heart disease tied to atherosclerosis—the buildup of plaque in the arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke—is the leading cause of death in the United States, but many people don’t notice symptoms of the condition until there is a serious problem. But what if a device as easy to apply as a temporary tattoo could tell you the state of your heart?

That’s what Dmitry Kireev, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is working to create. The American Heart Association has awarded him $231,000 over three years to develop wearable and implantable heart monitors that are flexible, easy to apply and provide faster, more accurate results than current testing methods.

“It really is about developing fundamentally translational technologies that will help people understand their health better,” he says. “Knowing your cardiovascular health is really important, because, typically, you would get to a doctor only after you develop a serious problem. A lot of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by lifestyle: by diet, by exercise. But we need the nudge. I mean, we are people, after all.”

Kireev aims to create two devices: A wearable device that can be easily applied to the skin and an implantable device. These monitors will aim to understand arterial stiffness and atherosclerosis, core issues for the development of bigger cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, stroke and coronary artery disease.

Both versions are based on his graphene-based bio interface design. 

“Most of the materials that are going into modern bio interfaces, either wearable or implantable, are still hard and rigid, or bulky,” he says. “The graphene bio interfaces that we are making are intrinsically thin, very soft, flexible, transparent.” As he has demonstrated for his previous work, it can be easily applied to the skin in the same manner as a temporary tattoo.

Kireev hopes that the wearable version will make self-monitoring more accessible. Current methods of testing for atherosclerosis include imaging technologies such as ultrasound, MRI or PET—which are all bulky and not available for at-home use. While human testing and availability are far down the line, taking the long view, Kireev envisions that his new design could be available at a local pharmacy and function in a way similar to a blood pressure cuff.

The implantable version will be designed to be applied directly to the heart to assess how it’s working, and even deliver electrical stimulation. “This is sort of what a pacemaker does, but with the significant difference that current pacemakers are rigid,” he says. “But what we want to make is something super soft, a tiny thing that can be put on the heart and used for long-term monitoring and stimulation of activity.” In preliminary animal research, he has shown that similar graphene electrodes can correct a cardiac disfunction arrhythmia. This part of research is rather fundamental at this point.

“This is a career development award, so I’m immensely grateful for the mentoring committee I’ve been working with,” Kireev adds, citing Igor Efimov at Northwestern University, Kevin Donahue at UMass Chan Medical School, and Yossi Chait, Corinna Serviente, and Yeonsik Noh from UMass Amherst.

Article posted in Research