Inspiration from the ocean depths

Jul 14, 2020

The path to innovation is rarely a straight line. It’s interspersed with stops and starts, failures and frustrations. And it takes a spark of inspiration to find the way to invention.

For the team of scientists and engineers who developed the DIRECTSENSE™ Technology, a tool for monitoring the effect of radiofrequency (RF) energy delivery during cardiac ablation procedures, inspiration struck from an extraordinary place – the electric fish.

Found deep in the ocean where light is scarce, these fish navigate the waters by creating an electric field around their bodies. As the fish approach prey or obstacles, the field distorts and gives them a sense of the object’s presence.

This was a breakthrough realization for our scientists, who saw a parallel between these fish and how a catheter could provide electrophysiologists more information during ablation procedures.

Ablation is a treatment option for patients with cardiac arrhythmias, a condition which causes the heart to beat irregularly, triggered by problems in the electrical system of the heart. During ablation procedures, physicians use a catheter to create lesions and destroy heart tissue that causes the abnormal rhythms, relying on several proxy measurements to estimate the relationship between the catheter and the tissue, and the tissue’s response to the energy delivery.

An electric fish has specialized skin cells that create the electric field to sense a rock or prey. Our scientists leveraged the proprietary mini-electrodes in the tip of the INTELLANAV™ MiFi OI ablation catheter to create a similar electric field localized around the catheter tip. This allows physicians to sense what tissue they are touching -- a cardiac wall or valve, for instance – before, during, and after they perform an ablation

For electrophysiologists, this technology is transformative. Existing contact force-sensing catheters measure how hard the instrument is pushing up against tissue, which tells only part of the story. Data from the DIRECTSENSE Technology, along with other measurements, offers physicians a distinct understanding of tissue characteristics and how the RF energy is affecting that tissue during ablation. This understanding helps guide minimal, predictable ablation during a procedure, which benefits the patient by helping to reduce the chances of over-ablation and avoid complications.

As we continue to innovate at Boston Scientific to better equip physicians and transform lives, stories like this remind us that inspiration can come from anywhere, even the ocean depths.