Innovative Process Yields Better Biomaterials for Healthy Heart Rhythm

Achievement date: 

Researchers at Boston University’s (BU) Nanotechnology Innovation Center have developed a new approach for implantable sensor and pacemaker assembly that enhances the ability to target the best site for implant placement while avoiding the risk of introducing toxic organic material into the implant. The NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) in Cellular Metamaterials (CELL-MET) supported the work. CELL-MET is headquartered at BU with partners including University of Michigan, Florida International University, Harvard, Columbia, Argonne National Lab, EPFL (Switzerland), and Centro Atomico-Bariloche (Argentina).


This research is part of CELL-MET’s effort to create scalable, low-cost technologies from cell-level building blocks to improve treatment of heart conditions. Pacemakers, which are medical devices that generate electrical impulses delivered by electrodes to contract the heart muscles and regulate the electrical conduction system of the heart, are essential tools for treating many heart conditions. This new method involves using gold and platinum metals as connectors in the polymer structure of the device that is implanted. One major benefit of the new method is that it enables medical practitioners to place implants in the most effective place in the body. Another is that the gold and platinum interconnects used lack the toxicity of other materials, a major improvement over existing approaches. This new method also enhanced device performance in pacing the pulses of the electric current that controls the rhythmic beating of the heart, metabolic sensing—a fundamental biological process that coordinates cellular metabolism, and measurements to determine potential actions and responses.


In this project, the researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of using a focused ion beam (FIB) to print nanoscale metallic patterns on complex two‐ and three‐dimensional polymer structures. While a powerful tool, using FIB to deposit materials in the structures has the drawback that it co-deposits organic material that might be toxic for cells. The research shows that the FIB can deposit both gold and platinum on polymer structures with no cytotoxicity effects. In showing that neither the gold nor platinum precursors have cytotoxicity effects, the research opens the door for using the FIB to create complex interconnects in other biomedical structures. This is a key enhancement to the plasma desorption ionization mass spectrometry (PDMS) driving/sensing method previously relied upon.