A new -tech pen shines a laser beam into the heart of a patient and can greatly reduce the number of deaths in major cardiac surgeries. This hand-held device scans the heart muscles for early warning signs of problems and can warn the surgeons if there is any danger.
Tests have been carried out on animals and the pen has been able to accurately predict cardiac arrests with more than 90% accuracy and does so at least 10 minutes before they happen. This is enough time for the doctors to increase the oxygen levels in the inhaling mask so it reaches the heart muscles in time and the cardiac arrest is prevented.
Almost 30,000 people undergo major heart operations in England alone. Cardiac arrests are less common in open-heart surgery patients and happen only once in a thousand cases. However, when it does happen, it is almost always fatal.
Currently, doctors use echocardiograms to monitor heart function which fire high-frequency sound waves into the chest to track how much oxygen-rich blood is reaching the heart. The constant monitoring of blood pressure alongside with the echocardiograms also give an indication of how things are proceeding. However, both of these techniques are not very useful when it comes to predicting cardiac arrests fast enough for surgeons to take preventive measures.
This laser pen is developed by experts at Boston Children’s Hospital in the US and could be exactly what the surgeons need to get an early warning that they so desperately need. It works by directing a fine laser beam into the walls of the heart where the muscles responsible for pumping blood around the body are found.
The cells in the heart act like cells in the rest of the body and rely heavily on mitochondria, which is known as the powerhouse of the cell. Mitochondria take in the nutrients like oxygen and break them down to produce the energy needed to function. This is known as cellular respiration. When the oxygen supply to the mitochondria is depleted, the risk of muscle cells dying increases and so does the chance of a cardiac arrest.
However, this does not happen in the blink of an eye and mitochondria undergo subtle changes. Scientists discovered that there is a sudden build-up of electrons when this happens. This is a warning sign that the cells could die soon and this can be spotted by the laser when it is shone on the heart muscle cells.
The technique has only been tested on rats so far but it was successfully able to identify the risk of a cardiac arrest at least 10 minutes before it happened with a 97% accuracy. Heart specialists at Boston Children’s Hospital are now setting up a human trial and hope to replicate the results.
There are also plans to develop a tiny laser implant over the next two years to sit temporarily inside the heart after surgery to monitor the risk of cardiac arrest of patients in intensive care. This new device will save a lot of lives if the results can be replicated in the human trials and the technology goes commercial.