Intelligent catheters to combat arteriosclerosis


In June 2018, Fraunhofer IPMS launched the collaborative EU “POSITION II” project researching micromechanical ultrasound transducers for smart catheter applications.

© Philips

Future catheters equipped with micromechanical ultrasonic transducers from Fraunhofer IPMS will offer better functionality, be smaller, be cheaper to manufacture, and be easier to operate.

© Philips

Intelligente Katheter, ausgestattet mit der CMUT-Technologie des Fraunhofer IPMS, sollen dem Arzt zukünftig seine Arbeit erleichtern, mehr Features bieten und den medizinischen Eingriff sicherer machen.

Arteriosclerosis is the most common of all vascular complaints. Narrowing of the arteries results in reduced blood flow to organs and other parts of the body – which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Patients must undergo surgery to expand narrowed or blocked blood vessels. This surgery consists of a physician inserting a catheter through a vein into the arterial vasculature to relieve harmful constriction using either a balloon or stent.

The majority of these surgeries can be performed using minimally invasive procedures supported by a variety of smart imaging and sensory catheters, allowing doctors to see exactly where a catheter is at any point during operative treatment.

Many benefits offered by micromechanical ultrasound transducers

In the recently launched “POSITION II” project aiming to further develop features of intelligent catheters, the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS strives to make procedures easier for doctors and safer for patients. The project aims to provide more functional medical instruments that are also smaller and cheaper as well as safer and easier to use. The technological basis is formed by micromechanical ultrasound transducers.

Ultrasound transducers for medical imaging are currently based primarily on the piezoelectric effect for both signal generation and evaluation, using special, potentially toxic piezo materials. These materials are also difficult to manufacture, making them very expensive.

The Fraunhofer IPMS technology offers an alternative by implementing MEMS structures (known as MUT components) for the construction of ultrasonic transducers. This achieves a compact structure. A post-CMOS module offers an integration capability, providing for production cheaper than is possible with piezo-based ultrasonic transducers. In another advantage, higher frequency can be achieved, resulting in better resolution – and thus, more accurate analysis of medical imaging.

Existing MUT technologies will now be compared with one another within the project, and subjected to further development. The aim is to select optimal variants or combinations of concepts, technologies, and devices for each application.