Rice University and Texas Heart Institute researchers are studying the use of soft, flexible fibers made of carbon nanotubes to restore electrical conductivity to damaged heart tissue.
With support from the American Heart Association, these institutions will test the fibersâ€™ ability to bridge electrical gaps in tissue caused by cardiac arrhythmias that affect more than 4 million Americans each year.
A beating heart is controlled by electrical signals that prompt its tissues to contract and relax. Scars in heart tissue conduct little or no electricity. Soft, highly conductive fibers offer a way to work around those gaps.
â€śTheyâ€™re like extension cords,â€ť said Mehdi Razavi, the director of electrophysiology clinical research at the Texas Heart Institute and the projectâ€™s lead investigator. â€śThey allow us to pick up charge from one side of the scar and deliver it to the other side. Essentially, weâ€™re short-circuiting the short circuit.â€ť
The nanotube fibers developed at Rice by the lab of chemist and chemical engineer Matteo Pasquali are about a quarter of the thickness of a human hair. But even an inch-long piece of the material contains millions of nanotubes, microscopic cylinders of pure carbon discovered in the early 1990s.
Though the fibers were developed to replace the miles of cables in commercial airplanes to save weight, their potential for medical applications became quickly apparent, Pasquali said.
Because the fibers are soft, flexible and extremely tough, they are expected to be far more suitable for biological applications than the metal wires used to deliver power to devices like pacemakers. They have already shown potential for helping people with Parkinsonâ€™s disease who require brain implants to treat their neurological condition.