heart of gold

Houston innovation team wins global award for painless heart technology

A medical device coming out of the Texas Heart Institute has been recognized for its innovation. Photo via THI

Houston's Texas Heart Institute's pain-free defibrillation technology was named the top future medical product design worldwide last month as part of the annual Create the Future Design contest.

The tiny technology aims to change the way cardiac arrhythmias are managed and remove the often traumatizing pain associated with their treatment. Developed by THI's Electrophysiology Clinical Research & Innovations team in conjunction with scientists at Rice University and UCLA, the technology allows doctors to place up to 12 tiny nodes around the heart to pace and defibrillate the heart without using a shock.

The technology will be most useful for atrial fibrillation and ventricular fibrillation, which can lead to sudden death, stroke, and congestive heart failure, according to Dr. Mehdi Razavi, the head investigator on this project and leader of the THI team. Razavi says winning the award "speaks to the need" of a new solution in the field as the shocks associated with traditional implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, or ICDs, can cause severe PTSD among patients.

"It's extremely painful. It's like someone takes a two by four and just pounds you from the inside in the chest, or a horse kicking you in the chest," Razavi says. He went on to add: "I have actually one patient who was a Vietnam veteran. He said nothing that he faced in battle was as disconcerting—not just because of the pain, but the fact that you don't know when the pain is when the shock is about to happen. That anxiety is just overwhelming."

Instead of shocking the patient's heart in a central location, the nodes spread energy needed to pace the heart at the correct rate throughout the muscle based on their location. This dilutes the feeling of a sudden jolt, and Razavi says, defibrillation using his technology could go unnoticed in patients.

In addition to this game-changing possibility, the new technology is physically safer in many ways, too. The miniaturized battery-less pacing system is free of traditional wires that send electrical pulses to the heart, known as leads. These leads can dislodge and fracture within the body and can cause infection.

The technology's wireless and miniature nature also allows doctors to better access regions of the heart that currently are difficult to reach with bulkier ICDs. Each node can be individually programmed and can stimulate different regions of the heart in different ways, as well.

A cross disciplinary team developed the device. Aydin Babakhani, an associate professor in physical and wave electronics at UCLA first developed the nodes to stimulate electricity for non-medical purposes. Behnaam Aazhang, the J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director of the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative, first introduced Razavi to Babakhani, and the trio worked together to bring the technology to the medical arena, along with about 15 to 20 other medical professionals and students.

The team at Rice is continuing to develop the hardware for clinical use. And studies on the use of defibrillation through these nodes across the heart are being conducted out to the Texas Heart Institute's research lab. Razavi and his team are currently conducting preclinical studies on the new form of treatment and aims to roll it out for clinical use in the next three to five years.

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Building Houston

 
 

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Asma Mirza of Steradian Technologies, Sahar Paz of Own Your Voice, and Emily Cisek of The Postage. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health tech to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Asma Mirza, founder and CEO of Steradian Technologies

Asma Mirza joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain how a pandemic pivot turned into a global health opportunity. Photo courtesy

It took a global pandemic for Asma Mirza to see a gaping hole in modern health care: Quick and affordable diagnostics tools. She founded Steradian Technologies in 2018, originally to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Mirza, says on last week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath." Click here to read more.

Sahar Paz, CEO of Own Your Voice Strategy Firm

A Houston expert shares how to improve on communication in the health care setting. Photo courtesy

Emotional intelligence is a major part of running a business — but its crucially more important in the health care space, according to Sahar Paz. She writes in a guest column for InnovationMap how to improve on communication in the health care setting — and why it is necessary to provide a high level standard of care.

"Health care sets up an environment for a tornado of emotions, and the rules and regulations centered around patient-provider interactions are often complex to navigate," she writes. "This leaves many on the brink of emotional exhaustion, and for survival’s sake, depersonalization with patients becomes the status quo. Feeling a disconnect with their patients is another added weight, as few get into this industry for just the paycheck – it’s the impact of helping people get healthy and stay healthy that motivates them." Click here to read more.

Emily Cisek, founder and CEO of The Postage

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool, and she is helping simplify estate management — something that includes working with banks. She writes in a guest column for InnovationMap how ripe for innovation the industry is.

"Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them," she writes. "The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents. It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities." Click here to read more.

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